5 Ways To Combat Anxiety During University Seminars

Personally, I find seminars the hardest part of my academic obligations at uni. Doing the reading during my spare time, prepping essay answers and all of the other academic tasks I have to complete are, at some level, manageable for me (in a non-arrogant way). Lectures are difficult because of the amount of people I am surrounded by in the theatres during them, as well as other issues I have such as overstimulation. However my attendance rate for lectures is always better than it is for seminars. This is because I find seminars to be the most similar to a collaborative, high school classroom sort of setting. Group work, presentations, individual contributions, teachers calling on students and inter-group debates are all features of seminars which make my anxiety sky-rocket. As a result, last year I would either avoid going to some seminars completely or, if I did go, I would end-up getting nothing useful out of them because my mind was so preoccupied with the anxious frenzy going on inside my head and body.

Through time and after speaking to lots of different support workers, mentors and tutors, I have found ways to not eliminate my anxiety but at least lessen it to a non-brain-shattering level during seminars. If you struggle during these uni classes like me, then these might be a worth a try for you. However, everyone’s mental health is different and each individual will find that they respond better to differing techniques. So, please don’t think that if these things do not work for you then you are untreatable and powerless to combat your anxiety because that is simply not true. There will be other methods and techniques out there more suited to you, it’s a case of waiting and researching to find the right support structures you need to put in place for you.

Without further ado, here are my 5 tips for combatting anxiety during University seminars:

1. Seek out your room beforehand

I find new, unfamiliar places to be overwhelming, so I certainly do not want the first time I visit a place to coincide with my first day of class and the first time I meet my classmates. On the whole, that is just way too many firsts and new experiences to be bundled together and experienced by me. So, I would recommend that if you have a day on-campus before teaching starts, then try to find the rooms your seminars (and lectures) will be in during the year. That way you can familiarise yourself with the place and not worry about having to find your way there and possibly being late on your first day. If you can remove the anxiety of not knowing where you are going that is another weight you can ease off your shoulders before your seminars start. Also, it might help you feel more in control if you know the layout and look of the classroom in advance.

2. Use other people’s know-how

From my knowledge of Universities, they all have a student support/information service which all obviously vary in size and other factors but have a responsibility on campus to try and help students who come to them with specific needs and issues. So, if you find that you ares struggling in seminars, make use of this service rather than struggling in silence. It is perfectly valid to set-up an appointment with a member of staff at your support service and ask them to email your tutors to notify them that you would rather not be called-upon in class to answer questions, for example, because the anxiety this provokes detracts from your learning. If your tutors are made aware of this then they can adjust accordingly and, if they do not accommodate your wishes, then you have a point of contact to go back to at the support unit who is already aware of the situation and can take things further. On the whole if you are honest and open about your struggles, I have found that people are a lot more ready and willing to help you.

3. Write it down

If I am ever called-upon during a seminar to answer a question or contribute in any way my mind goes completely blank; any knowledge or opinion I may have had two seconds beforehand disappears from my mind and I am rendered to a complete state of confusion and panic. So, if you are aware of study questions for that session in advance or if you have readings you need to do for that seminar, jot down some bullet points. That way if you are put on the spot at least you will have some words written down in front of you that you could be able to credibly use to escape the awkward silence of a non-answer. In all honesty, this has not always worked for me as I have still been unable to get words out even when they were in front of me but it is worth giving this tactic a shot anyway.

4. Fidget/stimming tools and toys

In any anxiety-provoking situation I find fidget toys useful. From making an airplane journey to walking down the street, fidget or stimming toys can have huge benefits in lowering your anxiety and allowing you to feel more relaxed. You can take out some of your anxious energy and re-focus your mind on them by using them under your desk or in your pockets. Personally, if I allow myself even just a minute of withdrawing from my current setting and focusing solely on the feeling and texture of my fidget toy (such as a tangle or fidget cube), I am sometimes able to regain some semblance of control over my thoughts.

5. Use your perspective

I have a tendency to plunge myself into catastrophic thinking whenever I am in the midst of struggling through a seminar. Feeling anxious and not being able to speak become the only things I can think about and a spiral of self-loathing and negative thoughts enter my head. What I’m still working on is implementing a different perspective during these moments. Rather than falling into a black hole of criticism and slating myself, I try to remind myself that seminars are not the centre of my world and are not the be-all and end-all of my academic career. At the end of the day, I am not graded on how I do in seminars and neither should me self-worth be based on them. I blow the experience of seminars out of proportion and let them define the tone and mood for the rest of my day which is both unhealthy and completely unnecessary. 

I feel like a bit of fraud talking about this because I still have not conquered seminar anxiety myself. Hopefully though you will be able to find something in my ramblings which will at least help to ease your struggle a little bit and you won’t do what I did in my first year which was avoid even going to a crazy amount of seminars which is the start of a slippery slope.

 

CONTACT ME:

Twitter – @RyanBInNature

Instagram – @awalkwithnature00

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5 Tips For When It Is Your Time Of The Month

1) Do light yoga

Emphasis on the word ‘light’! Doing intensive poses and pushing your body too hard could lead to you straining parts of your body which is the last thing you need if you are already suffering from menstrual cramps. Instead, do poses which will slowly stretch-out and ease your abdominal area, such as the Child’s Pose and the Bridge, which both open-up your hips and can help to release tension in the area. Hopefully, practicing yoga will help reduce the intensity of your cramps, distract you from any pain you are feeling and give you a mental boost as you can feel proud of yourself for looking after and staying in tune with your body.

2) Be patient with yourself

When you are on your period or your pre-menstrual phase, it may feel easy to get frustrated and annoyed with yourself. Whilst you will probably have the same amount of work or tasks to do as you have at every other time of the month, during your period your body calls you to slow down and give yourself some rest. During this time of the month, it is natural for you to not feel as physically energised or capable of intense work as you might wish. However, this does not serve as a reason to beat yourself up over your slower pace or emotional outbursts, be kind to yourself instead. Also, listen to your body and do not push yourself to exhaustion just to prove a point, it is not worth it and you will regret tiring yourself out when you wake-up the next morning feeling like a zombie!

3) Drink lots of water

Multiple studies have demonstrated that you are more likely to become dehydrated during your period due to the loss of blood and bodily fluids which occurs. In addition, the changes which occur in your hormones, especially the reduction in your levels of estrogen, at this part of your cycle can leave your body less able to retain water. So, make it a priority to restore your hydration levels during your period and drink plenty of water. This will help you to feel less fatigued and can also combat any feelings of weakness you may experience.

4) Consume foods rich in iron

Losing blood has the knock-on effect of lowering the levels of iron in your body which in turn can leave you feeling tired and weak. Therefore, eating foods rich in iron will help to restore its levels in your body. For me, as I do not eat meat, spinach is a great go-to iron booster and green juices are great for boosting my energy levels during my time of the month.

5) Be comfortable in your own skin

I don’t know about you but, especially when I was younger, I was made to feel ashamed about being on my period and at school it felt necessary to hide being on your period at all costs in order to avoid incessant jibes and teasing from the boys in your year (if one boy caught a glimpse of a packet of sanitary pads, it would be common knowledge within the hour that you were on your period!). As a result, I used to feel dirty and disgusting during my time of the month and loathe my body for putting me through the ordeal. However, as I have grown-up, I’ve realised that this NATURAL process, is not something to be embarrassed about or feel any kind of guilt over (how many times can I say that it is NATURAL?!). In fact, you should damn well feel proud of yourself for literally working through one of you internal organs shedding its lining and dealing with all the complications which come with it. Seriously, give yourself a moment of appreciation right now for your inner strength and power. So do not let anyone else’s immaturity effect you, rise above it and smile to yourself with the knowledge that they actually think their stupid words could have any impact on you.

For more information about what you can do to make your period more comfortable, check out these resources below:

7 Steps To Take If Your Period Makes You Unusually Tired – Bustle

Why Am I Weak During Menstruation? – Women’s Health Center

Nausea Before Period: Causes, Home Remedies, Treatment – Healthline

Grounding Yourself to Beat Anxiety

Anxiety and panic attacks can rule their sufferers’ lives. For years I avoided certain situations because I worried about having a panic attack in public and not being able to calm myself down. When you are in the grips of a panic attack it feels like the terror is going to swallow you up and you will never be able to battle yourself out of that suffocating trap which anxiety puts you in. Anxiety thrives on making you feel powerless and stifling you so that you feel that you will not be able to regain control of yourself or your life.

Over the years, I have tried so many techniques in my attempt to fight back against my anxiety and panic attacks with varying success. One tool which I have found useful in loads of situations is grounding myself. I’m aware that ‘grounding yourself’ seems quite vague and appears like a very abstract process, so here I am going to list all of the reasons why you should consider growing your ability to ground yourself if you suffer with anxiety, stress or panic attacks.

1) It can help to stop the spiralling thoughts of catastrophic thinking

Personally, when my anxiety takes hold, I find that my mind accentuates my emotions and begins to imagine worse and worse scenarios which I could find myself in if I don’t escape from my surroundings immediately. This feeling of urgently needing to flee and my fear of the dramatic situations which my mind conjures has led to me turning down many opportunities over the years, as I have opted to avoid whatever triggers my anxiety rather than confront these issues. However, the process of grounding myself has helped me to re-centre when I have felt panic take hold in public because it reminds me of the realities of the situation. Rather than letting myself get carried away thinking that my surroundings are a threat to me and that I need to instantly escape, I look around and force myself to mentally list all of the little details which I can see around me. This brings me back to the present moment and stops my mind taking control of my body and plunging me into a panic attack.

2) It brings focus to your senses rather than what is triggering your anxiety

Your senses are what root you into the moment and they are your primal tools to help you assess a situation. When you feel the strangle hold of anxiety tightening around you, think about the things which you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. For me, focusing on touch really helps me to ground myself back in reality, hence why I always pack fidget toys in my bag no matter where I go. Focusing on the texture of whatever I have in my hand diverts my attention from the thing which is triggering my anxiety and gives me a sense of peace and calm as my world narrows down to my own personal sphere which is contained by my senses.

3) It slows time down

Often when I am anxious everything seems immediate and every one of my emotions feels like it needs my urgent attention. However, reconnecting my mind and my body and mentally prioritising taking one moment at a time stops the rapidity of the moment. By putting time in perspective and slowing your reactions down, you can rationalise the situation because you allow yourself to be still and regain your composure. Grounding yourself roots your emotions back into symmetry with your body, meaning that you take away your anxiety’s power so that it can no longer manipulate you at will. 

If you want to learn more about grounding yourself, here are some sites which I have found personally useful whilst learning about the technique:

Helps for Grounding and Balancing Your Energies – this article lists specific methods of grounding yourself

What is Earthing or Grounding – this gives a medical review of the benefits of grounding yourself

6 Ways To Ground Yourself When You’re Feeling Anxious – this blog gives you a step by step guide in how to use grounding in order to combat your anxiety

RECOVERY

QUESTION: is the idea of ‘recovery’ helpful?

I have mixed feelings about recovery. Whether it is a help or a hindrance when so many people present it as an ideal which feels distant and unattainable to people who are in the midst of any type of illness. Sometimes when people reference recovery or being recovered, it just makes me feel more lost and hopeless than I was before. However, other times it can inspire me and give me the courage to keep moving forward with the comfort that others have weathered similar storms.

What is probably most frustrating to me about the idea of recovery is that it is so vague by virtue that it is subjective and hard to pin down in what it means to each of us individually. There is no specific route or journey that will lead you straight to recovery, the same steps and challenges do not work for anyone. Recovery does not look the same for everyone either, leaving me in the strange position of never being entirely certain of what I am aiming or working towards, meaning that my motivation begins to dwindle behind my uncertain mind.

Whenever counsellors or therapists have mentioned recovery to me I have felt myself recoil into my seat. Even the word seems so intimidating and far off in the distance. Also, I find the use of the term frustrating because who has the right or the knowledge to determine exactly what recovery is, what it looks like and what the time period for recovery should be? However much I want there to be a finish line I also do not know who I am without mental illness because I have let my mental health define me for so long. How do I separate myself from the characteristics of my illnesses and how will I know when this process is complete and I have recovered?

This post is a mess of rhetorical questions and abstract thoughts but what I have learnt from it is that I need to narrow down the specifics of what I am striving towards and what progress I will be satisfied with so that I could call myself recovered. Abstract and vague goals only lead to more frustration and motivation leaving me like a deflated balloon.

“I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.” – ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ by John Green

PROGRESS ISN’T STRAIGHT FORWARD

Progress isn’t always linear. There’s not always a finish line in sight. Things that we labour at in life don’t necessarily work-out mathematically, we can’t time ourselves and set concrete targets for when to hit our next milestones. Some things just have to take as long as they take which is probably why the intangible frustrates the human brain so much.

Neither my anxiety nor my depression can be measured. I can’t draw a pencil line on the wall to set my bench mark and then keep drawing lines until I flourish to the point of blooming five feet above my initial line. Wouldn’t that be quaint? Instead the journey with mental illness often seems a lonely and meandering one in which fog fills-up my mind so frequently that I become disorientated and wonder whether I actually have a final destination to keep moving forwards to. My illnesses aren’t visible, so cannot be judged on their reduction of prominence over time. Instead, they are confusing swathes of thoughts and feelings which ebb and flow in how much they cover and suffocate my mind and body. Sometimes it feels like I take two steps forward then three steps back.

Today the pessimistic route presented itself as the easy one to take. Time has felt like sand slipping through my fingers recently and the hum of everyone moving past me, their progress whistling in my ears, only felt louder the more I pushed towards the positive route. Today and writing this blog post reminded me of the importance of having goals and a picture of where you want to be, not just in one or two year’s time, but tomorrow and the day after that. When the possibility of progress seems to be so distantly set in the faraway future, it is difficult to find the motivation to continue onwards on the right path. So, I set myself short-term goals, literally for the next day, like waking-up and telling myself that it will be a good day, getting to my seminar a couple of minutes early, smiling at whoever I sit next to in class, holding the door open for someone or managing to get myself to say even just a couple of words to whoever will be near me in my lecture hall (this is the most ambitious as my words dry-up in my mouth when I am around people). These things may seem silly and inconsequential but I need the reassurance that work can always be done on some aspect of my mental health and the route which will take me looping backwards to my darkest place isn’t the only one available to me.

MY EXPERIENCE OF CBT…

I had a 12 session course of CBT in 2016 on the NHS when I was 16.

For those who don’t know, CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it aims to change the way you think and behave by talking through situations which you find triggering. Personally, my course of CBT focused on my anxiety because it was thought that if this was tackled and I could gain more independence, such as travelling on my own and such, then this may decrease my experience of depression and OCD because it would give me more freedom and lessen my tendency to worry about everything.

This is a difficult topic to talk about for me because I don’t believe that I got everything I could of out of my therapy experience. Whilst I seemed to make progress during my course of treatment, as soon as the treatment stopped after the 12th session I regressed back to my old ways because there was no-one working with me to maintain my progress, therefore there was nobody for me to disappoint with my inaction and hibernation in my house.

I have always found talking therapies a tricky experience anyway because part of my anxiety centres around talking and explaining myself in front of others. Therefore, it seems ironic that, in order to reduce my anxiety in the long-term, I have to put myself through hours of anxiety provoking treatment and talk about my deepest thoughts and feelings with a complete stranger! My fear of judgement and my embarrassment about my own wild thought patterns meant that I found it really hard to properly open-up to my therapist.

A lot of what my therapist told me was a repetition of the familiar refrain that my thoughts are illogical and not reasonable. When I told her about my feelings of impending danger whenever I left the house, she would reason ‘but there is only a very small likelihood of you coming to any danger by just leaving your house – it’s not rational to think that some crisis is going to descend on you when there are so many other people walking the streets right now who aren’t facing any danger at all’.

Every single session she would bring me back to the fact that my fears and anxieties were irrational, therefore there was no point in focusing on them and letting them rule my life. The problem with this was that I already knew that my thoughts were irrational. I know that my fear of leaving the house is neither plausible nor founded on any factual basis. Everyday I can see people walking outside my window without a care in the world or any threat of doom hanging over them. I wasn’t blind or stupid. The whole reason I wanted therapy was to find out why my life was so dominated by illogical thinking, why I am the way I am, not to just be told that my thoughts don’t make any sense. Instead, my therapist just continued telling me that my thoughts weren’t rational (as if this were a revelation) rather than giving me any practical advice to navigate my way around them.

So, for me, CBT didn’t offer me a route of a solution to my problems, if anything it just left me feeling more lost than beforehand. I felt like a failure for not leaving my course of therapy having been ‘cured’ and transformed into a carefree individual. The disappointment of my therapist who told me that I wasn’t making enough progress was, and still is, a heavy presence in my mind, telling me that my struggles are my own fault and that I am a lost cause.

I have no doubt that CBT works for lots and lots of people and it was definitely something worth trying because at least now I can say that I have tried it and I can cross it off my list of possibilities. It’s just a shame that it didn’t have the effect on me that I was hoping it would.

 

I WAS BULLIED…

For years I have distanced myself from people I used to be friends with.

Since the experience of moving schools, being bullied and isolated in this new setting and falling under the weight of mental health problems which I could neither appreciate or understand at this point, I have made a conscious effort to keep my distance from people, including people I have bonded with in the past. I have gotten used to the idea that I can only be a disappointment to people because the accusations and opinions of my past bullies still burn at the forefront of my mind, demanding to be heard even all of these years later. Their words, the way they looked at me, the smirks they gave their friends when I entered the room and the sarcastic comments on social media that I would only hear about after they had trickled through the grapevine of the rest of the year group still remind me in every social interaction that I am inadequate, the weirdo, the outsider that no-one could possibly like.

When I look in the mirror and see my face scourged with acne scars I remember the boy who appeared next to me in the lunch line, laughed and told me that I should wash my face – it would stop me looking so weird he said. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a train window, I am transported back to the time when the boy who sat next to me in Biology burst out laughing when he saw my glasses for the first time and encouraged his friends to all have a good gawp at me, right there in the middle of the lesson.

When I am walking between lectures at Uni, I suddenly speed-up and look around fervently as my mind is cast back to the time when I was chased across the school courtyard by a group of boys who were laughing and shouting at me about how ugly I was. When I’m in my dorm room at Uni, I double check that I have locked the door before I can properly relax because my chest tightens when I recall the numerous times a group of boys burst through the closed door of the music room I was in alone and refused to leave, taunting me incessantly, knowing that I had no-one there to defend me and they could say and do whatever they wanted without any teachers in earshot.

I still remember the faces and names of these bullies, clear as day. I remember the viciously appeased look in their eyes which appeared once they knew that they had hit a nerve in me. I remember the aggression in their voices and movements as they collaborated to gather round me, knowing that I hated to be touched by anyone, let alone them. I remember the way they gave me a long studious look up and down when I entered the gym in my PE kit, making every part of my exposed skin crawl and my stomach squirm, knowing how inevitably disgusting I must look.

All of these memories are stored in a fire-proof box in my mind which no amount of talking therapy can penetrate. Any friends that I used to have, I push away, keeping texts to a minimum and conjuring a myriad of excuses as to why I can’t meet-up with them. I scroll excessively through my friends’ profiles on Facebook to remind myself about how much better their lives are in comparison to mine as I obsess over their carefree smiles which they share in photos where they have their arms slung over the shoulders of other pretty friends, which remind of how there are no pictures of me with my friends because I have always refused to put my face in front of a camera, as the bullies’ catcalls about my ugly face continue to rebound around my head. I tell myself over and over again how different I am to these people I used to call my friends, there is no way that they could find me interesting anymore, I am just a hermit who stays in her room and hides herself away from the world.

The words of bullies still control my life no matter how much I try to bat them away or rationalise them. But, as I get older, I have faith that one day I will be strong enough to make their words stop having such an effect on me. One day, this torment will be a bad memory that I have since learned from and the details of their faces and actions will be a distant memory. For now though, I will have to continue working and struggling through the long-lasting effects which their ‘fun’ has had on me and try to cling on to the friends who are still trying to reach out to me, no matter how much I have tried to keep them at arm’s length.

THIS MORNING

This morning I lay in bed feeling that my body was too weighed down to heave out of bed. The rational part of me was telling myself that I needed to get out of bed and get on with my day, I am already behind on Uni work. But the rest of me just wanted to stay cocooned inside my duvet for the rest of the day. I didn’t want the responsibility of sustaining myself, having to feed myself, having to hydrate myself. I wanted to pretend that the night could last all day – no new dramas, no challenges, just being suspended in that feeling of comfort all day.

I had an initial appointment for on-campus counselling yesterday. I have counselling and therapy before and each time I have to spill my guts to a new stranger so that I can get referred to another stranger to talk things through, I feel more drained and hopeless. I move from person to person and begin to think ‘what is the point?’. I fall into this black hole of thinking that I cannot be helped and that I can never verbalise my feelings properly anyway, so how can I ever get a counsellor or therapist to understand me?

I know that I am in a privileged position to even be close to get counselling, there are so many people across the world who are denied the treatment they need for a multitude of reasons. So, I’m sorry for moaning about it.