Have you ever felt anxiety while you were studying?
The feeling of anxiety is often in response to stress, like anxiety while studying hard for end of year exams. A recent conversation with a good friend, who’s struggling with anxiety during her final nursing exams, made me reflect and repost this old article.
Many people have these anxious feelings during their lives and fortunately, these feelings normally pass once the pressure has subsided.. However, having an anxiety disorder is more than feeling anxious or stressed. It’s when the anxious feelings don’t pass, they occur frequently and stop you doing what you want to do. Moreover, people with an anxiety disorder often find it very difficult to manage their symptoms.
I felt stuck in the vicious circle that was anxiety and my life. And it was getting worse. Some days (and nights) of constant anxiety left me feeling drained, fatigued, and unable to focus or concentrate. Struggling with what felt like a scrambled brain, I couldn’t take in or retain the information I needed to study.
My anxiety was crippling while I was studying
I just wasn’t getting this studying and revising lark. And how foolish was I? I thought I’d be learning about mental health nursing. So I couldn’t understand why we had so many lectures about all the oligies i.e. sociology, biology, physiology and psychology.
These lectures were normally trotted out by bored lecturers using big words, which was a major bugbear of mine. By the time I’d figured out how to spell sternocleidomastoid* the lecturer had moved on. And my notes then had more holes than Swiss cheese.
Another bugbear was how many communication and interpersonal skills classes we had to attend each week. I mean, everyone has these skills. Right? Doh! I should’ve realised that the shoving and pushing brigade, together with the teeth clicker and tutters, didn’t. Not forgetting the newspaper rattlers and chair scrapers, the talkers and the snorers, along with the class disruptors.
While it wasn’t anyone’s fault I was plagued with anxiety, it was certainly my classmates’ lack of consideration that made it go through the roof. I think I spent the first half hour of each class wound up like a coiled spring. Just waiting for all the commotion to die down so the lecturer could begin.
There’s no such thing as a stupid question, or so it’s been said. Well, I beg to differ, because some students really did ask stupid questions. And with disturbing regularity. Just kill me already! “It says here to write my name in black ink, does that mean I can’t use a blue pen?” or “We’ve been told we had to arrive on time for classes. Does that mean we can’t be 5-10 minutes late?”
And these same students managed to interrupt and disrupt lessons with their stupid questions, so much so, that the topics were cut short. This meant we had to go through the whole bloody lesson all over again the following week.
I wish I’d known how to reduce my anxiety while studying
Three months in and just before Christmas, we were given an essay to complete over the festive period. It was something like ‘How my life is different since starting Uni.’ Okay. Sounded simple enough. Until I got it home and read how I had to write in an ‘academic’ manner? Using references and to use ‘reflection in and on action.’ I’d only passed a few low-grade GSCSs some twenty years previously, for crying out loud. And, as far as I can remember, we didn’t use referencing, and no one ever mentioned ‘reflection’ or ‘academic writing’.
Let me tell you, pre-computers, I re-wrote this essay so many times, wanting to sound clever and knowledgeable. That didn’t work. It just left me feeling even more stupid than I’d first thought, and my anxiety was sky high. The more anxious I got , the less I could concentrate on my essay, and the deadline was looming. What, with this and the class disruptors, boredom, big words and stupid people, I wondered if uni was for me.
However, what example would I have set for my sons had I not completed the essay and got a whopping seventy eight per cent as a result?
Before you go any further, stop!
A little tip for you. Let out that big breath you’re probably holding in right now. That’s right — let it out with a big huff. Let your shoulders drop down from your ears. Unclench your teeth and jaw, go on, give it a little wiggle and let your whole face relax. Now drop your shoulders, unclench your fist (s) and lay them (or one of them if you’re on your mobile now) flat on the table or your lap. Uncurl/uncross your legs, give your toes a wiggle and let me explain quickly.
Your body physically can not be tense and relaxed at the same time. So — if you’re hunched up, fists in tight balls, jaws clenched — you’re effectively telling your brain you’re on alert, tensed and ready to fight or flee. The brain is constantly receiving signals from the body, registering what is going on inside of us. So it makes sense, if you follow the tips above, your relaxed body is telling your brain you’re calm and relaxed.
Now you might try this and think “Huh, that didn’t work,” and you might be right, the first time. But if you practice it enough — waiting for the bus, sitting on the train, in the lift, in the shower or standing in that always slow queue at the Post Office where the person in front is paying all their bills with pennies.
Practice, practice, practice. And just when you do need to relax quickly ie before an interview, exam etc, you’ll have practised so often, you can do it immediately, with ease.
What is an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, last for longer than six months, and are interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder and you should contact your GP, access counselling, seek professional help.
Some symptoms of anxiety
- Tense muscles
- Excessive worrying
- Restlessness, pacing, fidgeting
- Agitation, quick to anger
- Fatigued – changes to previous sleep pattern
- Changes to previous eating pattern
- Changes in libido
Repeat the technique as above — breathe, relax your jaw…….. Go back up the page, remind yourself of the technique and practice, practise, practise.
Anxiety can be debilitating, so it’s important to seek professional help if your symptoms are severe. If you feel anxious on the majority of days and experience one or more of the symptoms listed above for at least six months, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Although anxiety is a medical condition in its own right, there can sometimes be a physical reason for your symptoms – and treating it can bring the anxious feelings to an end. See your GP to rule out any other causes and do not self-diagnose.
Are you still practicing unclenching your teeth and jaw? If not, go back up the page and remind yourself of the techniques.
Over to you
So you have anxiety? I hope you’ve found this post useful and if not, I’m happy to answer any questions and accept any suggestions. Let us know your tips to control your anxiety, and I look forward to your comments.
*Sternocleidomastoid — One of two thick muscles running from the sternum and clavicle to the mastoid and occipital bone; turns head obliquely to the opposite side; when acting together they flex the neck and extend the head