Now that term one of this year is over, I’ve been reflecting on this past term and I can confidently say that it has been one of the hardest few months of my life (side note: this is my fifth year of uni, so that’s saying something! Yeah, yeah, I know I’m old, I’m over it). The last two weeks of any term are always the hardest for me and I always have to fight hard to get through those last few days so I’m used to have mental breakdowns at the end of term. Every year of university has been challenging, but these past two years have been challenging in new ways. This time last year, I was still trying to figure out how to study law and I was thinking about how to prep for my exams in January. This year, I’ve pretty much figured out how to study law (I think), but I had a newfound challenge that came in the form of anxiety attacks.
I’d never had these types of anxiety attacks before, but after some reflection, I realised that I’ve had some form of anxiety (yet to be officially diagnosed) for a very long time. My anxiety attacks used to be very mild and were just an overwhelming sense of urgency to do something. It didn’t even matter what I was doing, as long as it was remotely productive, that usually dissipated my anxiety. But, this year, my new anxiety attacks keep me up very late or all night, I’m running between my bed and the toilet all night thinking I’m going to puke (but I never do), I just want to cry because I’m so overwhelmed (but then I get more anxious because I hate crying), and my heart pounds in my chest, in my ears, and in places I didn’t even know had a pulse. When I had my first one like this a few weeks ago, I had no idea what was going on so it only made me more anxious, which naturally made it worse. I’ve learned that I have to psych myself out to reduce the constant fight-or-flight response, which is easier said than done. I generally don’t feel stress so these anxiety attacks just come out of nowhere and I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that’s stressing me out.
I remember one moment last week when I had one last tutorial and two essays left before I was home free for the last three days of term. I was doing my tutorial on Monday afternoon for Tuesday 9am, after which I had three days of birthday celebrations planned and then I was set to fly home that Saturday. I was doing my readings in the Law Society office where a few of my friends were doing work or just hanging out. I started to skim through the first article when suddenly, my brain was shutting down and I was feeling an anxiety attack coming on. I didn’t even know why the attack was happening; I was being productive and doing the reading for my tutorial, so surely, I wasn’t stressed out!
When I started to think about why the anxiety attack was coming on, I realised that, actually, there were a lot of potential reasons: it could’ve been that I had a tutorial the next day and two essays I still had to write or it could’ve been specifically the tutorial or one or both of the essays or it could’ve been that I had to read 5 articles for the tutorial and they were all at least 30 pages long or it could’ve been that my tutorial was at 9am the next day and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to wake up in time for it and I simply could not miss this tutorial or it could’ve been that I was stressing about my 6:30am coach to Heathrow to get home that Saturday because if I missed that coach bus I would miss my flight and I didn’t even want to think about what would happen if I missed my flight. It could’ve been any one of those reasons or all of those reasons combined that caused that anxiety attack.
Personally, I feel extremely uncomfortable leaning on people for help, but sometimes I really need it. The problem is that I genuinely forget that I can ask my friends for help. When I was going through that first anxiety attack, I didn’t get to sleep until 6am. It lasted 5 hours and for that entire time, it never even crossed my mind to call my best friend, Scarlett. When I told her about it the next day, she said, ‘Why didn’t you call me?’, and I said in response, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that! Why didn’t I think to do that?!’.
Your support system is the most important thing for you when you’re going through a rough time because your mind puts you in traps that you can’t get out of by yourself. Sometimes you need to lean on people, regardless of how uncomfortable you feel doing it (ME!), whether it’s because you’re not used to doing it, or because you feel like a burden on someone else. Friends are there to catch you when you fall, that’s kind of how people survive.
The more I talk about my anxiety attacks and why they happen, the sillier the triggers seem and the better I feel. It really puts into perspective that we stress out over the smallest, most mundane things sometimes, and they’re really not worth stressing out about. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or exhausted at the end of a term, and whether you do a lot of extra-curriculars or none at all, your mental wellbeing is very important and is a significant factor in being able to function as a proper human being and do your best work during term. So, look for help when you need it!
If you feel like you need help and you want to go further than just your friends or family, there are lots of resources to choose from including the NHS in the UK, and CAMH in Ontario, Canada. The University of Leicester have a mental wellbeing service with lots of supportive options. There’s always someone who can help if you look for it!