My Anxious Chest

Anxiety has a smothering hug;
Like a mother bear who pretends to protect you
Whilst it goes about suffocating your existence,
To the point where your lungs are a cage
And the locked bars on your lips allow no escape.

Anxiety has the manipulative claws of a monster;
It pretends to protect you from potential
Doom, then goes about crushing your skull
With the pressure of an invading force
Which, guiltily, you let in in the first place.

Welded into a cage designed by your fears,
What lies outside the bars is always a threat,
Movements and sounds are menacing
When the sky cannot even by trusted
And your hope for a future comes crumbling down.

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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

Inspiration and What You Want

There are so many options in life. So many times where we face a crossroads; decisions which feel like they will define and shape the years which follow. We are presented with choices to be made on a daily basis and it is hard to know which route to take a lot of the time. How do we know whether a certain path will benefit us in the long-run? How can we be sure that we will not regret turning an opportunity down? Which choice would contribute best to our wellbeing and mental health?

Choices come with a lot of baggage and worry. We do not want to close-down our access to certain opportunities but often I have found that I am not fully certain on what I want to do in the future, where I want to be and how I wish to get there. Without clarity about your future as well as your present, decisions can feel like a huge weight to bare because you do not feel ready or prepared to tackle them.

“My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.” – Newt Scamander

Recently, I have set the intention to let what inspires me guide me. Things which re-kindle my passion, things which set-off excitement within me and things which set my mind alight with possibilities are the things which I am going to take my cues from. It appears clear to me now that what inspires us sends us a direct message about what we are supposed to do in life because they show us what we want. The things which peak our curiosity and intellectual engagement do so because we have a natural leaning towards them which tells us that these are paths we are meant to follow and opportunities we are supposed to fulfil. Why else would they cause us to give such an emotive response to them?

When we are unclear about where we want to end-up in the future and what career or lifestyle path we should pursue, we should look to what inspires us. Within inspiration lies our real, true calling. Inspiration strips-back all of the external influences over our decisions, such as other people’s opinions, societal expectations and financial pre-occupation. By discarding all of these unhelpful layers which can cloud our minds when we make decisions, it is easier for us to understand what we truly want and what choices will be of the most benefit to us both in the long and short term.

“Hold fast to dreams,

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird, 

That cannot fly.”

Langston Hughes

 

5 TIPS FOR THE SLEEP DEPRIVED…

I am one of those people who really struggle with getting enough sleep. Every night, I lay in bed for hours waiting to fall asleep, I wake-up multiple times, toss and turn and then I wake-up in the morning feeling the opposite of refreshed. As with lots of people, this problem becomes a lot worse when high levels of stress are thrown into the mix as I cannot stop my mind from buzzing during the night and jumping from problem to problem which I feel like I have to fix right there and then, even if the situation is out of my control. My University exams are quickly approaching and I approach this period with a sense of dread that I will be a walking zombie throughout it because I will only manage to grab a few hours of sleep here and there. So here are five tips which I have been given along the way during my trials and tribulations with poor sleep which I have found really help if I actively discipline myself to act upon them rather than reverting to my own bad habits…

1) Do not go to bed earlier than you usually would

This may seem counter-intuitive because your mind tells you that if you are going through a period in which you are not sleeping well then you should go to bed an hour or two early to counteract your lost sleep. However, often your body-clock will not agree. Your body gets used to the time that you usually go to bed and settle down for the night and so even if you feel that you are tired enough to go to sleep your body may well resist you. Then you might start a snowballing feeling of frustration as you toss and turn in bed for longer than necessary and get yourself annoyed rather than relaxed which is obviously what you need to drop-off during the night.

2) Read for a bit

When you get into bed, don’t instantly try to fall asleep, give your body and mind time to relax and switch-off instead. Personally, I find reading very therapeutic especially if I am reading from a physical book rather than a device like a kindle. You do not have to work your way through masses of pages or delve into a heavy-going classical literary masterpiece, this shouldn’t feel like school homework or a burden in your evening. Instead, pick a book you find genuinely interesting and hopefully you will find yourself getting so lost in the words of the book that anything weighing your mind down will disappear.

3) Jot down a list of your worries

If stress is what is restricting your sleep then roughly jot down a list of bullet points about whatever is occupying your mind. Any thoughts that occur to you, just scribble them down and do not worry about writing in flowing prose or making grammatical sense, this is purely an exercise to relieve your mind of the issues which are bouncing around inside it, demanding your immediate attention and distracting you from falling asleep. Once you have written them down make a conscious decision to leave the issues until the morning and give your brain the chance to refuel and recharge during the night so that you can tackle them the next day.

4) Do yoga or stretch of an evening

Especially if you spend your days huddled over a desk or scrunched up around your laptop screen, your body develops a lot of tension during the day which can be another thing which weighs your mind down as well as making you feel uncomfortable. So, of an evening try to do a few stretches or, if you’re into yoga, roll out your mat and get to doing a quick twenty minutes of yoga to relieve your muscles of their tightness. Whilst you are doing this, focus on your breathing so that you give your mind a break from being occupied by stressful thoughts. This is also beneficial because it will boost your sense of accomplishment of what you have managed to do during your day if you can incorporate an exercise such as stretching or yoga which are both good for your wellbeing.

5) Do not clock check

I am awful at taking my own advice on this one! When I am lying bed waiting to fall asleep, my head pops up every ten minutes or so to check the time and I mentally calculate how much sleep I am losing and how long it is until I have to get-up in the morning. It is blatantly obvious that this is unhelpful. Constantly looking around at your clock is only going to build a sense of frustration and annoyance in you, as well as anxiety about the sleep you’re missing out on. In the end, checking the clock only makes you ruminate harder on your sleep problems which has the adverse effect of making them worse.