Engineering student Marine writes about her experience of anxiety prior to International Women in Engineering Day, to raise awareness of mental health on campus, and share some of the techniques she has found useful for managing it. She believes in the importance of talking about anxiety because it helps others realise they’re not alone in managing it, and that it doesn’t have to define a person’s life.
Around one in four people experience a mental health difficulty each year, such as anxiety or depression, with women twice as likely to be affected as men. Anxiety can be a debilitating illness, but it in no way makes a person ‘less than’. It can make simple, everyday tasks a lot harder, but it doesn’t have to stand in the way of a person achieving their goals. In fact, people with anxiety have a lot they can bring to their studies or employment, including resilience and emotional intelligence.
Anxiety is not often visible, so people can sometimes find it hard to understand something they can’t see. However, while there is some misunderstanding around mental health disorders, it doesn’t mean they aren’t real or that people’s experience living with them isn’t valid.
“The voice is coming as a wave, a wave that I have to ride before waiting for the next one.”
My anxiety causes me to question myself; it’s a small voice in my head which tells me “there is no need to get up, there’s nothing to succeed in. Nothing you will achieve today anyway. You may as well go back to sleep.”
The morning commute gives me additional time to think, which is not always a useful thing. Sometimes I find myself dwelling on the annotated itinerary of faults in my research and all the work I haven’t produced.
By the time it’s 10am my anxiety levels can already be quite high, particularly on a day when we have a group meeting. Even when I’ve worked hard on my presentation, prepared my slides and practiced, the anxious voice in my head takes me by the scruff of my neck and tells me I’m not ready and that I won’t be able to present well. It discredits my research and tells me that my results don’t count, I won’t be able to describe them well, and that the longer I speak the more likely I am to be exposed as a fraud. I wonder what I’m doing, and whether I deserve my position.
Anxiety can make me doubt myself and it knocks my confidence. Anxiety is the voice in the back of my mind which tells me again and again I’m not good enough and smashes my ideas as soon as they arise. After a short presentation delivered by my anxious self, where my sentences are vague and I am unable to express what I really mean, I sit down. But there is no silence, all I can hear is the voice telling me how much of a failure I am.
“If you think you are experiencing anxiety, don’t let anyone tell you it’s all in your head. Talk to someone you trust, friends, family, or a GP.”
Anxiety isn’t always a visible condition, which can make it more difficult for people to understand it. However, this doesn’t mean it’s not real. The symptoms of anxiety, medically defined as ‘generalised anxiety disorder’, can include feeling restless and constantly on edge, difficulty concentrating, trembling or shaking and shortness of breath. Some people experience panic attacks, and difficulty leaving the house. While many of us have experienced feeling nervous or anxious, often about an event or a life change, clinical anxiety differs in the length of time it affects a person and the level of impact it has on a person’s life. It’s entirely possible to manage it, it just takes some time, work and motivation. I’ve come really far in my own journey of managing my anxiety, which is something I need to focus on more.
“Ride the wave of anxiety and be the captain of your ship – it will pass.”
Some of the things I’ve found useful in managing my anxiety include starting the day with telling myself something positive: “You are brave, you are enough, you are worth it”. I think about the things I enjoy if I need some motivation to get going in the morning, and or visualise getting up and out of bed. I have also found doing ten minutes of yoga as soon as I get out of bed to be very helpful in starting the day right.
I also find talking to friends and family very helpful, both on a daily basis or when I start feeling anxious, as it can help take your mind off the anxiety and be a positive distraction. I’m kind to myself and will buy myself a treat if I need a boost, or do something I enjoy like meditation, or walking in a park and connecting with nature.
It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone, and that support is available. Don’t be hard on yourself or blame yourself for anxiety – and remember that if you’re having a rough time, you will get through it. If you’ve had a rough time, if you’re losing faith, don’t blame yourself if you feel as though things are going wrong. Forgive yourself, because better things are coming your way so hang in there – this is a fight you will win!
Where to find further information and support
If you’re experiencing anxiety, or any other difficulty with your mental health, there’s plenty of support available at Imperial for both staff and students:
- For students, visit the Student Counselling and Mental Health Advice Service website to find out what is available and how you can access it.
- There is a separate page for staff members with advice on where to find support.
- In addition, Imperial College London has a network of Mental Health First Aiders who can offer advice to both staff and students and signpost to appropriate support – they identifiable by their green lanyards.