My name is Holly Shahverdi and I am a Trainee Counselling Psychologist at Teesside University. I am studying the Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology but before this, I studied my MSc in Health Psychology and my BSc in Psychology (Hons).
I wanted to write a piece on that pre-university anxiety that many of us can relate to, in the hope that you will be left feeling more reassured and with some helpful tools to manage these feelings.
Anxiety – What is it and where does it come from?
The first thing to note is that everybody’s experience of anxiety is unique to them, but in my practice, people often describe it to feel like an intense feeling of worry or an impending sense of doom. Physically, I have seen anxiety manifest as changes in sleep patterns, restlessness, heart palpitations and panic – to name just a few symptoms. Psychologically, it can be overthinking, ruminating, negative self-talk among other things.
You may be surprised to learn that anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. Anxiety is a natural function that we have developed to protect us from danger. Though there are several anxiety disorders, it’s important to note that an isolated incident of anxiety running up to a big life change is pretty normal. Whether you’re from the area or moving for the first time, University is probably vastly different to your School or College experience and is a huge lifestyle change so it is no surprise that you may be experiencing some anxiety right now.
That’s great, but what can I do about it?
Even if this is helpful anxiety, it still doesn’t feel good.
There are a few things I want to share with you that may help you to manage this pre-University anxiety:
Talk to someone about your concerns
Firstly, it is important to open up about feelings of anxiety. Sometimes it helps just to say them out loud to a trusted friend or family member. If we don’t talk about our feelings, then they can continue to build up inside and eventually feel very overwhelming.
Pre-University anxiety is more common than you might think. Could you reach out to someone else who is going to Uni for the first time? Knowing how other people are managing can be helpful and can reassure us that we are not alone!
Many of us worry about getting things ‘wrong’ or not being ‘clever enough’ for such a big step. Hey, you got a place at University, congratulations! You were chosen because you deserve this place. You have demonstrated that you have the skills and capacity to study a University degree and that’s amazing. You earned this and that shows that you are resilient, determined and ready to embark on this chapter of your life. You can do this!
If your anxiety is rooted in the fear of ‘not being good enough’ for Uni, say this to yourself every morning as you brush your teeth and every night before you fall asleep. You can also develop your own positive ‘mantra’ to tell yourself when those anxiety-induced thoughts begin to surface. Challenging our irrational thoughts in this way can help us to re-frame our thinking and stop these feelings from becoming overwhelming.
Also, the truth is that going to University in part is about getting things wrong. If we all knew everything, then there would be no need for us to go on to further study! University is a learning process, and nobody is expecting you to be anything but yourself with a willingness to learn and grow.
This is one of my favourite grounding tools and I like to share it with my clients as it helps us to return to the present moment. Anxiety often leads us to ruminate and overthinking about future events and ‘what-ifs’. It is such a powerful thing to be able to bring yourself back into the present moment before this anxiety snowballs and becomes overbearing.
The technique is called 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
- Begin this exercise by sitting comfortably somewhere you feel safe. Pay attention to your body and how it feels. Is your heart racing or are your muscles tight?
- Begin to breathe in through the nose and out through pursed lips. In for five seconds and out for six. Continue breathing this way throughout the exercise:
- 5 – Name five things that you can see around you. Pay attention to the detail of these things.
- 4- Name four things that you can hear. Is it the noise of cars outside or the wind blowing through the trees? Again, try to notice these sounds and how they make you feel.
- 3- Name three things you can feel. It could be the weight of your body in your chair or your feet on the ground.
- 2- Name two things you can smell. If you struggle with this one, then naming 2 of your favourite smells is just as effective.
- 1- Name one thing you can taste or your favourite taste. Think about how it makes you feel.
- Take 5 more deep breaths and think about how you feel now.
At this point, the exercise is complete and hopefully you are feeling more present and disconnected with worries about the future.
Take home message
So, to conclude, a little bit of pre-university anxiety is to be expected and is our body’s way of preparing us for this significant life change. It’s important that if feelings of worry and anxiety are building up that you speak up, do some positive self-talk and grounding if you need it.
I would like to wish you the very best of luck for your journey into Higher Education at Teesside University, you can do this!
If you are worried that you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder (feeling worried or anxious with no obvious trigger/feeling like there is no start or endpoint to these feelings), please speak to your GP.
Here are some other useful links: