How students can combat anxiety - advice from a therapist

Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 2:11 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 2:11 pm

Anxiety is a very common issue which clients present to me. Statistics show that one in six people in the UK suffer from anxiety in any given week (writes therapist Gareth Fox).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines anxiety as: “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.” As far as uncertain outcomes go, student life is a perfect example.

For most students, going to university coincides with the first tentative steps away from the safety of their family homes. It creates an environment of discovery.

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It is a liberating but daunting move into an unknown world full of rumour and myth. Exciting stories of unbelievable happenings fill the airwaves, but from time to time, tales of a darker, seedier world can filter through.

Recently I had a client who wanted to be hypnotised to sleep better. For the past year and more they had slept on average only three and a half hours per night, a sleep easily interrupted by the slightest noise.

Disturbed sleep patterns are a very common thing among students. When we talked around the issue the client said that they were in a constant state of anxiety - it felt like they were constantly nervous, or frightened, and that there was a heavy dull pressure on their chest, almost like their heart was filled with dread.

One of the first things I learned about the mind is that it is continuously recording our experiences in our environment - both positive and negative - so that it can keep us alive on this planet.

Whatever it registers as negative it moves us away from, whatever it registers as positive it moves us towards. A very simple example is touching a flame; our mind registers this as painful and dangerous, and so stores a survival program that says that we shouldn’t do this again.

But it is not only physical stimuli which will create a program; a heightened emotional stimulus will also be taken on board.

During our session, the client referred to multiple events, passed off as ‘normal’, but which had created heightened negative emotions. When I asked why they believed these events to be normal, they said that they were regular experiences for students to endure.

No matter the regularity of the event, if the body feels the hormones of stress, then it will download the information and act accordingly.

As a side note, just because something happens regularly is no incentive to dismiss it. What we consume stays in our bodies until we work it out again.

What my client had experienced was a series of embarrassing and frightening traumas. A collection of what they thought to be normal stories in their past, which were having a debilitating effect on their present.

These events were based around friendship circles, alcohol and relationships, three things that they would continue to be in regular contact with for the duration of student life. So what was happening?

Because of the emotional trauma that had been previously experienced, the mind was now hypervigilant. Everything in a similar environment became threatening, and so the body’s ‘fight or flight’ survival program was constantly switched on.

Stress hormones were continuously being secreted, and because the threatening environment was everyday student life, they were not being flushed away to allow the body to return to a calm, relaxed state.

Every time the client went to a pub/club for drinks, the survival mind expected danger. Every time friends came over to their house, their survival mind expected danger. This is what it had programmed from the past.

Consciously, they were living day to day, doing the normal student thing, but internally they were under attack.This is anxiety - the body under constant stress from an unknown danger in the environment. And being in a state of constant hyper vigilance was not allowing the client to switch off and fall asleep.

So what can you do to combat anxiety?

You can choose exactly how you perceive the events that happen to or around you. You can choose to feel panic and stressed or you can choose to shift your perspective and see something new.

Your choice comes down to two things: the pictures you make in your head, and the words you say to yourself. You can choose to see your past as a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions, or an unfortunate blip that you couldn’t do anything about.

Once you shift your perspective, you change your past. And naturally, if you no longer see your environment as threatening, then you no longer have the need to stress.

Controlling your thoughts is the first step towards creating a more positive future.

For more information on how to deal with anxiety [email protected] site.