I have an anxiety disorder and have suffered bouts of depression for the past 5ish years of my life. Those 5 years include GCSEs, A Levels and the first 2 years of my Journalism degree – and things don’t seem to be looking better for third year, either.
This is Mental Health Awareness Week, and I want to share some of the tips I’ve learned for coping with studying and keeping your mental health at an okay level of acceptableness.
- Make a self-care routine for ‘bad days’.
Bad days are an inevitable part of mental illness. There are days where I spiral down and down until I cannot leave my room, for fear of annoying my lovely housemates.
These are the days I enact my self-care routine. It’s not all Lush products and journaling; for me, self-care means taking care of myself on the most basic levels. Making sure I’ve showered, I have a drink beside me and I brushed my teeth at some point during the day.
Then, I like to clean my bedroom, and the shared downstairs living space. Since I’m generally a messy person, tidying gives me a sense of order and calm that my brain desperately needs.
I’ll also make sure I eat. My anxiety means I feel nauseous all the time, so it doesn’t matter what I eat when I’m like this, so long as I eat something.
It’ll be different for everyone, depending on your preferences and how your mental illness manifests itself, but having some kind of order you know you can easily follow is more likely to get you out of bed when it’s the last thing you feel like doing.
- Keep learning
This was some advice my mum gave me, when my anxiety was really bad during A Levels. She said to keep learning new songs on my guitar, so I was distracted from the worry I felt about the exams and everything else that was going on.
It really helped. Whether I was doodling, or playing a song from when I was 10, the distraction worked to keep me calm for a few days. I use this now, to make sure I get some time playing guitar at some point everyday, to the point where my fingers feel itchy if I haven’t yet.
It could be painting, or cooking, sewing or playing football. Something to keep you distracted so the bad thoughts can’t overwhelm you.
- Forgive yourself
Write on some post-its or make yourself a poster reminding you that this is an illness. You are not your panic attacks, your manic episodes, your triggers. We are more than our illness, and we didn’t ask for it. We didn’t bring it on ourselves, it isn’t punishment. It’s a part of us that we can learn to live with.
We need to forgive ourselves for our problems, because the illness can already make us hate ourselves. We don’t need that from our conscious thoughts as well.
- Prevention is better than cure
Many times, we can’t stop the onslaught of our illness. Sometimes there is no way to know whether you’ll be okay in a specific situation or not.
But sometimes we do know.
I know that being late to something will give me a panic attack. I’ve known this for years. So, I make sure I arrive everywhere at least 20 minutes early. I get the bus an hour before I need to go anywhere. On Sundays, when I’d just started at work, I’d walk for over an hour to get there, because I didn’t trust that the bus would get me there on time.
If there’s something you know will set things off for you, there may be a way you can prevent it. It’s worth it, to not have that panic attack in the stockroom for the first 10 minutes of the shift.
- Surround yourself with people who don’t make things worse.
Most people will not try to make your mental illness worse. But sometimes… there’s no real way around it, and they do. Maybe they’re a friend of a friend, a work mate, a housemate, or in a lecture class. Whether they occasionally say or do something that sends you spiralling, or your brain tells you that bumping into them is the worst thing possible, they just make things worse.
It’s necessary to remember that they’re not doing it deliberately, but you do not have to spend time with them. You can choose your friends, and how you live your life and if it doesn’t include them because that’s what is best for your mental health, then part ways without regret.
Sometimes, you might have to suffer through, because you work with them, or live with them, but it is possible to avoid them most of the time. Chances are, there are more important things for you to spend your anxious energy on.