Coping with anxiety at University

[Charlotte Mullin | Contributing Writer]

Cramming the last of my possessions into my dad’s car on Tuesday, preparing to leave Hatfield for good, I had three thoughts:

  1. It is so hot. It is so blisteringly, skin-meltingly hot that I might as well just combust to escape this torturous existence.

  2. My entire life can fit into a Volkswagen Golf.

  3. I am no longer a student.

As you can imagine, the final thought in particular weighed on my mind a lot, provoking a lot of internal screaming whilst I struggled to maintain a stoic expression at the prospect of being A Proper Adult. My days of assignments and exam revision were over. Now, I would be expected to actively seek out responsibilities instead of having them shoved onto me. Without any deadlines, it would be impossible to lounge around until the last minute and then frantically scramble to scrap something together and hit ‘submit’ on Studynet. No, now I would be stuck in limbo, and every day that passed by without me trying to get my life together would just get worse and worse, a ticking bomb counting down towards an unknown date.

In attempting to distract myself from the horrors of adulthood, I stumbled upon a photo my mum took of me on my very first day of university, when I moved into halls. (Long live Telford Court!) It’s a terrible photo for a number of reasons: I didn’t know it was being taken, it’s horrendous quality, and I generally look very sour-faced and unkempt. Also, my room never really progressed past that state of messiness. Looking at it, though, inspired a myriad of emotions within me, because I am now worlds apart from the person I was in that photo. For comparison and for memory’s sake, I asked my dad to take a picture of me before I waved goodbye to student life forever.

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Then and now


You can pretty much instantly see the difference between the two. My hair and fashion sense have drastically improved, for one. Seriously, what was I thinking? I should’ve gotten a haircut sooner. More importantly, however, from my expression alone you can just tell that I’m a much happier person now. Sure, I was caught off-guard in the first photo, but I think it generally encompasses my mindset at age 18, which was that of somebody who had struggled with severe anxiety for all of their adolescence, and was now being thrust into the wilderness to fend for themselves for three years.

What is it like to experience anxiety?

I’ll try and describe anxiety for anyone who has never had it before. Imagine that you’re going to see a play in an extremely prestigious part of the West End. You settle down into the audience for a nice, relaxed viewing, when suddenly the director rushes out and drags you backstage. For some unfathomable reason, everyone is under the impression that you are supposed to be playing the part of the main character, even though you have absolutely no acting experience and you have never even read the story the play is based off of. But no one listens to your protestations. Instead, you’re forced to get into costume, and you manage a thirty second skim of the script before you’re pushed out onto the stage in front of hundreds of people, all fixated on you, all waiting impatiently for you to begin. Obviously, you’re speechless, that paralysingly nervous feeling of having a bucket of ice water thrown over you being amplified a hundred times worse, and everybody watches you flub and fail to even comprehend the explosion of emotion you’re undergoing. Yeah, anxiety is basically feeling like that all the time.


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It’s essentially a prolonged case of stage fright. The most basic conversations might as well have been in an entirely different language; every time I spoke, I felt like I was under intense pressure, as if I was in an exam or on a game show. I would ruthlessly scrutinise everything I said and did, long after it actually happened, which led to countless nights of crying myself to sleep because I was so worried about what people thought of me. Even just walking around in public made me feel self-conscious, like every single stranger I passed was holding a magnifying glass up to examine all of my insecurities and flaws. As nightmarish as social situations were, it didn’t end there.

Every single minute action turned me into a bundle of nerves. Whether I was cooking dinner, reading for class, or showering, it didn’t matter. My mind would never stop racing, jumping around until it found something to latch onto and make me obsess over until I felt like a tightly coiled spring. Example: I’m in the shower, holding a bottle of shampoo. It’s almost empty. I’m going to run out of shampoo soon, then my hair will be greasy, and everyone will make fun of me behind my back. Or I could go to Asda and get another bottle, but then I’ll be surrounded by people who will stare at me, so I have to get up an hour early to make sure I look okay, but all my good clothes are in the wash so I have nothing to wear, et cetera et cetera. It’s kind of like when you get onto a train and you suddenly forget if you turned the hob off or not, and also there’s a stranger screaming ‘YOUR HOUSE IS GOING TO BURN DOWN’ into your ear non-stop.

A recipe for disaster

Doesn’t sound too fun, does it? That was my life, every second of every day, and then suddenly I was a fresher, all alone and with an abundance of new things to worry about, like rent or food shopping. I vividly remember my first night in halls as one of the worst nights of my life. My whole block went to the Forum, and almost immediately after stepping inside I turned around and left. In retrospect, I imagine it now to be like when Abe Simpson walks into the burlesque house, sees Bart, and then walks back out. Loud noise? Pulsing lights? Crowds of people? It was basically a recipe for disaster in my eyes, so while everyone else was out having fun I was under my duvet, lying in the pitch black silence, resigning myself to the fact that this was how I was going to feel for the next three years. Jesus, this is depressing just remembering it. I promise this article does actually get happier.