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Understanding anxiety

Find out how to recognise anxiety, ways to manage it and what support is available

Anxiety is a way of describing the feelings we have when we’re tense, worried or afraid. We can all feel anxious at times and that’s not always a bad thing - feelings of anxiety can help us to respond to dangers and keep us motivated and alert. But there are occasions when people find it hard to control their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and anxiety begins to affects daily life.

What happens when we feel anxious?

Anxiety can trigger a flight or fight response, so we are ready to react to danger. The body goes to high alert and releases the hormones adrenalin and cortisol. These cause your heart to beat faster to pump blood to your arms and legs, so they can respond to danger. This is okay when our bodies need to run away or fight a threat, for example, if an aggressive person is shouting at us. However, anxiety can create surplus energy when a worrying thought passes through our minds, but there is no action to take at the time. This can result in physiological responses to anxiety such as difficulty breathing, feeling hot, dizzy, increased heart rate or digestion problems.

Find out more

It is easy to recognise anxiety?

There are several forms of anxiety. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) causes people to feel anxious most of the time. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling that you can’t stop worrying
  • Worrying about the future
  • Feeling restless
  • Feeling irritable with others.

There are a number of other anxiety disorders including:

  • Panic disorder – worrying that the worst thing will happen
  • Social anxiety – the fear of making a fool of yourself across a number of social situations
  • Health anxiety – concerns about becoming unwell or physically sick
  • Specific phobias – the association of fear with a particular object, event or location
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder – obsessive or intrusive thoughts that something will go wrong and repetitive behaviour to stop these thoughts.

There are some good websites that explain anxiety conditions and their symptoms, such as www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help/anxiety-information and web.ntw.nhs.uk/selfhelp.

When is it important to ask for support?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to the following questions, we recommend seeking some help:

  1. Has the topic of stress or anxiety become the centre of your world, so that you are constantly thinking and talking about it?
  2. Are the things that you usually do to relax and reduce stress no longer working?

What support is available for students at BU?

The Student Wellbeing service is there to help any student feeling that they are struggling with stress or anxiety or any other mental health difficulty.

The service is completely free and confidential, and our Wellbeing Advisors can help you with a wide range of issues, including anxiety, stress, homesickness and low mood. They can also help you access wider support services, such as for eating disorders, drug and alcohol use, sexual health and bereavement. The team offers drop-in sessions and workshops, as well as one-to-one appointments.

As well as Student Wellbeing, there are all sorts of other services available on campus. For example:

  • Find out what SportBU or SUBU have on offer, from trying a new sport or exercise class to volunteering or joining a society
  • Talk to the library staff or your tutor for study skills and advice, if you’re worrying about a failed or future assignment
  • Book an appointment with the careers and placements teams, if you need help looking for part-time work, securing a placement or looking for a job after your studies
  • Getting practical advice often reduces stress - you can always contact AskBU if you’re not sure where to go for the best help.

Online support

All BU students can sign up, for free, to the Big White Wall, an online mental health and wellbeing service offering self-help programmes, resources and peer support. Clinically-trained ‘wall guides’ are also available 24/7 and it’s all completely anonymous.

There are also several free apps that can help us all fit a little bit of relaxation in to our day, including Calm, Frantic World and Headspace.

What practical things can help reduce feelings of anxiety?

  • Sleep well, eat well, drink well and feel well
  • Write a to do list and prioritise tasks that are ABC ‘Absolutely must be done’, ‘Best done today’, and or ‘Could be done today’
  • Set reminders for regular study break and plan what to do during your study breaks – phone a friend for quick catch up, put the laundry on, listen to some music – choose things that give you a chance to re-charge and re-focus
  • Continue or make time for exercise, even a 20 minute walk around the campus
  • Practice mindfulness - there are many resources online and you may find the headspace app beneficial
  • Talk to somebody about how you are feeling.

Concerned about a friend or family member?

Whether it’s a friend or family member, try not to put pressure on them. Instead ask them how you can help. As we are all individual and will find different things helpful, asking them is often simplest solution.

Encourage your friend to speak with the Student Wellbeing team or give them a call. The Samaritans can support either of you by email (jo@samaritans.org) or by phone 116 123. You can also come along to one of our Student Wellbeing drop-in sessions to find out if there are other ways you can support your friend or relative.

They may not know why they are feeling this way or how to change things, so try not to blame, criticise or suggest that they ‘just deal with it’.

The Mind website also has some helpful tips.

Student Wellbeing is run by Bournemouth University in partnership with Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust. Opening hours and more information can be found on our website.