We live in a progressive society which, more and more, celebrates those matters that were once a taboo. Yet, there remains a stigma around mental health which causes irrevocable harm to sufferers. I have battled depression and anxiety over the years and, for a long time, refused to talk about either because doing so felt like an admission of weakness, not of illness. Returning home last weekend was amazing, I hadn’t quite realised how much I needed to see my mum, my dogs and rainy old England until I was back. However, the return trip to Spain was harder than I had anticipated and, perhaps inevitably, was accompanied by a resurgence of the anxiety that I am constantly battling. This week, I wanted to share a few tips with you for dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. (Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, these are just a few techniques that I’ve found help!)
- Ground Yourself
This is a technique that I saw on Facebook about a year ago and have been using ever since. It’s designed to reorient you through an awareness of your surroundings, by way the five senses. When you feel your anxiety rising, simply work through your senses to find five things that you can see, four things that you can feel, three that you can hear, two that you can smell (alternatively your two favourite scents) and one thing that you can taste (or your favourite flavour). A similar technique is to work through the alphabet, naming things that you can see starting with each letter. This could be objects or words written on buildings, street signs, adverts etc. I used this latter technique when I was in the airport over the summer, waiting for my flight to Spain. It’s good for moments of prolonged anxiety and is easily adaptable to keep you distracted for longer. Simply pick a new category and start again!
- Identify Your Triggers
I mentioned in my post ‘It’s Okay to not Be Okay’ that halls became a source of anxiety for me when I first started at UoL. Realising this meant that I could put measures in place to ease the transition. Even something as simple as finding a doorstop meant that I felt less trapped in my room! If you can identify the things that set off your anxiety, it becomes easier to prevent panic attacks. This can either be by minimising your exposure to triggers or simply by being aware that a situation might act as one. In this latter instance, that awareness might allow you to recognise the beginnings of a panic attack earlier and ground yourself before it can become fully fledged.
- Talk About It
It’s important to remember that a mental health disorder is never a weakness, simply an illness and, like any illness, they can be treated. Talk to family and friends, see if they have any advice or strategies for coping with anxiety. Even if they don’t, having somebody, or a few somebodies, who knows about your struggle can help in different ways. I struggled with depression during A Levels but refused to admit to it. Taking a gap year before university helped to overcome it and I promised myself then that, should it ever get bad again, I would tell someone. Now, whenever I start struggling with my anxiety, the first thing I do is tell my mum. This is partly because she’s the one support system I’ve always been able to count on and partly because I know that, should it become unmanageable, she’ll force me to talk to a professional. Something that I am far too stubborn to do by myself! Also, remember that the university has measures in place to help with any struggles you might be having. From your personal tutor to the Student Wellbeing Service, there is always someone to talk to.
This topic is one that I consider to be of great importance and discussions around it are vital to creating greater exposure to, and understanding of, the problems surrounding mental health and its taboos. If you have anything to add, please leave me a comment below!