Your Feelings

Coming to University is a big step forwards and an exciting time. Sometimes the newness of a situation can feel overwhelming and your emotional response may feel very intense, have a look here on what you can do to help manage your feelings.

Anxiety is a common and natural response to stressful situations.

Fear and anxiety are actually important to our survival as they trigger physical responses to prepare us to fight off or escape from external danger.

When we are anxious adrenaline courses through our systems, our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes faster and blood is directed towards our muscles. In addition, our brain shuts off the higher reasoning part of the brain (the cortex) in order to make it easier to reach simple black and white decisions - do I fight or do I run?

All of this is vitally important to survive a potential external attack. It is obviously less helpful if we are trying to study and less helpful still if we feel so anxious that we are unable to function on a day to day basis.

The following tips will give you some very practical steps that you can take to control your anxiety.

Addressing your anxiety may make you feel more anxious at first. Even thinking about anxiety can make it worse. But taking some simple steps can help your anxiety reduce.

  • Don't fight against the feeling - becoming anxious about being anxious simply doubles the problem. Accept that you are anxious and that this is a natural reaction to pressure.
  • Identify the thoughts and events that make you more anxious and why they do this.
  • If anxiety is regularly keeping you awake set aside time in the early evening to examine those thoughts that are disrupting your sleep. Anxiety can distort our sense of proportion. Challenge your negative thinking and remember the positive things you have.
  • Don't let the anxiety change the way you behave. For example you should study for the time you decided you would - don't avoid studying because it makes you anxious or be tempted to study for longer late at night. Recognise that you are anxious and use the relaxation tips you can find here.
  • Give your mind time to turn off- if you find yourself thinking about things that make you anxious when doing other things, remind yourself that you have set time aside to focus on those problems later.

Sometimes the newness of a situation can feel overwhelming and your emotional response may feel very intense and perhaps even scary. It can be comforting to remember that in the past you have lived through similar experiences (e.g., like starting at a new school) and that in spite of your initial reaction you were able to adjust eventually.

It is often better to share your reactions with someone in spite of any possible worry that no one would understand. You can often gain relief - and possibly a new, reassuring perspective - when you talk to someone else about how you're feeling.

Remind yourself that your thoughts and feelings are important whether or not they are shared by others. Allow yourself to 'listen' to your feelings/thoughts/reactions rather than pushing them down or medicating yourself with alcohol, drugs, food, etc. You might gain insights that could lead to different ways of dealing with your experience. Attending university is not only a chance to gain an academic education: the experience also provides the opportunity to get to know yourself better.

Remember it is generally helpful to:

  • 'Acknowledge' your thoughts, feelings, reactions (at least internally) without making a judgment (e.g., I am really feeling sad; I am angry, scared; I am feeling inadequate, etc.).
  • Ask 'what might be going on for me? ' 'What does this situation remind me of?' Sometimes a person experiences strong emotions that seem like an overreaction; it might be possible that the present circumstances provoke an emotional memory of a previously stressful/painful situation. Recognizing this connection might allow you to have a better understanding of your present situation.
  • Reassure yourself that no matter what you think or feel, it is all right even if it is negative; there is a difference between thinking and feeling something and acting it out. Thoughts/feelings do NOT equal actions. Ask yourself, given your feelings/thoughts, what would be helpful right now? What might you be able to do to comfort yourself and/or to deal with the situation constructively.
  • Remember previous adjustments. For example, when you first started secondary school, started new jobs...imagine what you felt like. Note your feelings, thoughts from that experience. How did you deal with it? What was comforting to you?
  • How do you generally deal with stress? What else could you do to soothe/take care of yourself? Try making a list of activities.
  • Do you ever use drugs, alcohol, or food to help yourself 'feel better?' If so, what could you do instead?

Many people find it difficult to relax during stressful times, possibly because of the physical effects that anxiety stimulates. Some simple techniques can help you take control of your body and will allow you to relax.

Breathing

  • When we are anxious our breathing becomes shallow and we breathe in for longer than we breathe out. This stimulates our autonomic nervous system - preparing us for fight or flight. Breathing slowly and breathing out for longer than we breathe in stimulates our sympathetic nervous system - which makes us relax.
  • Sit in an upright position looking straight ahead. You can close your eyes if it helps you to concentrate.
  • Put one palm on your navel, when you breathe in you should feel your hand rise as your stomach swells. If you do not feel this, try to make the next breaths go down into your stomach. It may take a while to get this right, don't worry with practice it will become natural.
  • Breathe deeply in through your nose to the count of 7 then out through your nose again to the count of 11.
  • Continue to do this for 5 - 10 minutes and you should feel yourself beginning to relax. Concentrate on keeping your breathing slow and counting your breaths in and out.

If you practice these exercises a couple of times a day (one of these before you go to bed) you will gradually find it easier to relax. In time, when faced with stressful situations you will be able to call on these techniques immediately and be better able to manage your anxiety.

Some people find listening to Relaxation podcasts can also help them to relax. You can find some of these at http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/relax/

If this is the first time you have lived away from home you may find yourself missing family and friends. This is simply because you are naturally attached to familiar people and places. The problem can be compounded further for international students by the culture shock of discovering a new country.

Homesickness often dissolves away naturally in the first few weeks of term as you get involved more in your course and social life. The University environment can become familiar pretty quickly, which tends to give a sense of calm and control.

Your homesickness may continue if you are struggling to find your niche, or if there are problems at home that you are worrying about. If you still feel homesick after a few weeks, don't lose confidence that you can adjust to living independently from home.

Homesickness can also be caused by:

  • A sense of anticlimax - you have finally arrived at university after working towards it for so long
  • Unhappiness when things are different to your expectations of student life
  • A heavy workload
  • Those who are homesick often feel they have no control over their environment, and that they are not identified with it or committed to the university or their place in it.
  • Talk to someone. If you haven't yet made friends then try a member of student wellbeinga chaplain, a Student Union Advisor or a member of halls staff.
  • Keep in contact with home but make a real effort to make new friends at uni too. Decide whether the best policy for you is to have frequent contact with home (because contact makes you feel better), or little contact (because contact makes you feel worse). Think carefully about whether or not to go home at weekends. Some students find it helps to ease the transition; others find the constant readjustment makes them feel worse.
  • Make a real effort to join societies/activities and to make at least one or two friends. This might feel very difficult, but the more you feel part of campus life, the less homesick you will feel.
  • Be realistic about what to expect from your university and from yourself. Establish a balance between work and leisure: you are NOT expected to work ALL the time - you would soon burn out. On the other hand, if you don't put in enough time on work, you can very quickly get behind, which only adds to your stress.
  • Try to establish a routine as soon as possible. The fuller your days are, the less time you will have to feel homesick or lonely.
  • Remember to get enough food and sleep.
  • Give yourself time to adjust: you don't have to get everything right straight away. Nor do you have to rush into making major decisions about staying or leaving.

What might help?

For a small number of students, however, this experience will be more intense and will cause feelings of great distress. If you are one of these students it is not unusual for you to experience feelings of anxiety, palpitations, shaking, crying, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and feelings of desperation.

It is important to remember that - even though it doesn't feel like it right now - these feelings will not go on forever. If you feel this is affecting you make an appointment to see a counsellor on +44 (0)1332 593000.