End of term exams – anxiety and panic attacks


Studying day and night for four exams; sociology, psychology, biology and nursing skills, stopping only to go to the loo or  shout down the phone at sales people, almost broke me. Thankfully the boys were revising for their exams too, so they understood and kept out of my way, tapping on my bedroom door only to ask if I’d like a coffee. Wine was the answer!

Pre computer, the worldwide web (www) and wi-fi, I was struggling to get my head around the biology terminology in the extra-large books from the course reading list. However, when rummaging in the sale box at my local bookshop, I found a pop-up biology book for kids. Yay. Job done! Nevertheless, I’m not sure my suggestion to add this book to future course reading lists was taken seriously.

Still, no matter how much I’d studied, outside the exam halls, I felt the familiar onset of palpitations, sweating, tingling fingers and toes. I’d read that this was the blood rushing to where it was needed ie the brain and large muscles, to activate the body for fight or flight*. So, I had this thing where, by using breathing techniques and distraction or focussing (I hadn’t heard of Mindfulness then), if I could stop the tingling before it got up to my wrists or ankles, I could prevent a full-blown panic attack. That day — it wasn’t working.

Standing rigid (freeze*) as the other two hundred and odd students found their way around me was a bit awkward. Head down, trying to look nonchalant, I rummaged in my bag and dug out my tissues, liberally soaked with lavender oil; known to be another stress reliever. I desperately sniffed in copious amounts of the stuff and I wasn’t taking any chances as I dabbed the tissue on my wrists, under my nose and under my ears? The well-used tissue was then shoved up my sleeve so I could inhale at leisure during the exams. Who cares that I smelt like my gran’s underwear drawer?

Well, guess who passed all four exams? Okay, the highest mark was just sixty- eight per cent but I’d only gone and done it. Now, this really was a big deal because, with six poor GCE’s, I’d always thought I wasn’t very clever. When teachers tell you often enough that you’re thick, it cuts to the quick and you start to believe it.

On results day, the queue for the public telephone in the student union room snaked down the corridor as excited students waited to give the good news to parents or partners. Despite the fact my tummy was screaming out for food, I too wanted to share the good news. I called the boys’ dad at work and I’d barely got the words “I passed all……” out when he snapped “You knew you would, smart arse. Anyway, did you take twenty pounds out of my pocket this morning?” I said I had, and he hung up. I was hurt, angry and mortified, but carried on chatting cheerily into the phone, while my heart was breaking and until my ten pence ran out.

Note to self: “Don’t let the man bring you down.” — Maya Angelou

*Flight, fight or freeze is the body’s response to perceived threat or danger and which prepares the body for flight or fight; the physiological and psychological response to stress prepares the body to react to the danger.

Author: mentalhealth360.uk

Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

2 thoughts on “End of term exams – anxiety and panic attacks”

  1. I love the Maya Angelou quote you included. You accomplished something amazing that no one can take away from you. I so admire you for going into the field following your own struggles.

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