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Managing anxiety

Positive psychology believes that anxiety is a mental state that results from a difficult challenge for which the person has insufficient coping skills.

Anxiety is an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. If experienced regularly it can prevent us from engaging in daily life. Fear is an underlying cause of anxiety and is also our normal response to stress.

Being a student means facing different challenges – learning how to live away from home, making friends, meeting deadlines, etc. We also get to know ourselves better. We have the opportunity to see how we react in situations that we have never been faced with. If a situation is causing us anxiety we can work through it and learn some coping skills. Many of us are experiencing feelings of anxiety right now whether it is in social situations or worrying about the future.

When we are feeling anxious our thoughts can become difficult to manage. We may experience racing thoughts and our self-esteem may be affected because we may lack the confidence to believe we have coping skills to handle the situation. To manage these thoughts it is necessary to recognise them first and see them as thoughts that are not helping us. Once we identified unhelpful thoughts we can start to challenge them. Examples of unhelpful thoughts are believing things will go wrong or worrying about matters we can not control.

Challenging our thoughts is an inward journey and there are some simple ways and exercises to start with:

  • Write down your unhelpful thought and think of one fact as to why this thought is true. The aim of this exercise is for us to see that the most unhelpful thoughts we experience are not based on facts.
  • Try to think of things that we are able and not able to control. For example, we can control what time we will wake up however we are not able to control the weather.
  • Language and the words we are using is important. If you notice you are using negative words, try to replace them with positive or neutral words. For example, instead of saying ‘worrying’ about we can say ‘thinking’ about.

In the moment of experiencing anxiety, our problem solving can be irrational. This is because our emotions are involved. It is always better to take a step back and reflect because decisions made when we are calm, rational and effective are the most beneficial.

Don’t be hard on yourself. We are all learning every day how to manage our emotions – spend time to understand yourself. Knowing why we react to different things in certain ways is crucial to deal with any unwanted feelings. Getting to know yourself is a never-ending journey and one that should be enjoyable.

Be in the present moment. Wake up your creative mind and use your imagination. A famous quote from William Arthur Ward says ‘if you can imagine it, you can achieve it, if you can dream it, you can become it’.