Lifestyle 16.11.18

Anxiety: How to recognise it and what to do about it

Anxiety is extremely common among students. If you think you - or a friend - is suffering with it, then here are the signs, and some things to help.
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

This article was written by an external contributor.  Natalie Leal has provided some of the signs of anxiety, and the things you can do to alleviate  it. 

Research by UniHealth last year found that a massive 82% of first and second year university students suffer from stress and anxiety. This shocking statistic means that more than eight out of every ten students are currently feeling this way, with only a quarter of those surveyed saying they would reach out for help.

You may be one of them, or it could be a roommate who is suffering. The important thing to know is that you are not alone and there are lots of ways to get help. Here are some anxiety symptoms to look out for in yourself – or others – as well as a list of completely free resources to try.

Signs of anxiety



Sometimes, when we are feeling low, we can get a bit stuck in our heads. Small worries can become huge and we focus on them, going over and over problems and trying to think our way out of them.

If you feel that you have worries that are taking up most of your thoughts, you may be suffering from anxiety. And if you notice a friend seems distracted or preoccupied much of the time, they could also be anxious.

Pounding or fluttery heart

A racing heart or a fluttery feeling in your chest is a sign of stress and anxiety that dates back to cavemen times. Adrenaline floods our body, making our hearts beat faster so we can run away or fight predators.

Thankfully we don’t meet many tigers nowadays, but our bodies still react in the same way. Which is why your heart starts pumping when you’re facing a modern day stressor, such as a moving to a new university, or doing a presentation.

Tense body

Another way your body reacts when anxious is to tense up. A classic sign of stress is a clenched jaw, but equally bad back or achey limbs can also fall under this category. Again, this is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response. If you’re feeling worried or fearful about lots of things, your body can get stuck in this ‘fight or flight’ state.



The pressures that worry, anxiety and stress can put on your body and mind are likely to wear you out, especially over a long period of time. Exhaustion can also be a sign of depression which often comes hand-in-hand with anxiety.

Lots of students have long-lie ins, but if you notice yourself or a friend sleeping a lot more than usual it could be a sign something is wrong.

Sweating / shaking

It’s easy to become self-conscious about a symptom such as sweating which in turn makes you more anxious and then makes you sweat more – a viscous cycle. Annoyingly, anxiety can feed off its own symptoms.

I think I’m anxious – what can I do?



Mindfulness meditation may sound a bit hippie dippyish to some, but in recent years this practice has gone mainstream. The ever popular Headspace app now boasts more than a million users, but does come with a membership fee.

A completely free alternative is a selection of mindfulness meditation exercises by UCLA. You can do them in just five minutes via your phone, and they can all be found here.


For an even shorter blast of calm this simple yet beautiful GIF can help you regulate your breathing when everything else feels too much.

Tense those muscles

Another simple, yet effective and completely free way to de-stress is ‘progressive muscle relaxation’. It works by relaxing the body which in turn relaxes the mind. It can really help when you’re feeling nervous about something, such as meeting new people. All you need is 15 minutes and these instructions.

University support services

It’s definitely worth checking out what support services your uni has on offer. Nearly all will offer counselling and support, and for anyone struggling with a diagnosed anxiety disorder (or other mental health conditions) ongoing support may well be an option.

Online support


If you’d prefer to get more anonymous support, websites such as Mind have lots of resources and advice. You can also check out blogs, YouTube videos and podcasts around the subject of mental health to hear other people’s stories, which may relate to yours.

So if you recognise some of these symptoms, remember it’s perfectly normal to ask for help. Do not dismiss anxiety as being ‘stupid’, or think that you are overdramatising things. Anxiety is a horrible but common aspect of university life, so there’s no need to suffer in silence. Make sure you reach out for help in whatever way feels right for you.

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