“They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn” Seneca The Younger
University can be an incredibly difficult time, for all kinds of reasons including pressure, money, and friendships. Student anxiety and mental health issues can be made even worse when others say “These are the best days of your life”, or “What have you got to worry about? Wait until you get a job!”. The reality is that uni pressures can bring all kinds of anxiety, stress, and self-esteem issues. Behind all of these can be what we know as an existential crisis.
Is it Student Anxiety?
An existential crisis is the term given to feeling as though you don’t know what you’re doing, where you’re going, or who you are or want to be. Sound familiar?
University often coincides with a time in our lives where we are bound to be having these kinds of thoughts. A huge part of our younger years is about finding identities that we can gel with, looking for others in similar tribes that we can feel safe with, and working out how to live in the adult world.
What about mature students? This can also be the case for those of us who are returning to studies after periods in work. You can definitely feel different as you take on a student identity, and look ahead to a potential new career. Perhaps you wonder what this means for who you are, and how you live your life. You will come into contact with different types of people, and make new allegiances. You may actually be changing yourself or your outlook beyond recognition. And change is the key.
Many students find themselves wondering who they are, and what they want, while they are at university. This can seem scary, but most courses last three years or longer, so it is inevitable that we will have changed during that time. We might think that we are one singular person, always the same, but in fact we are in a state of constant change, a state of constant ‘becoming’. While we are at uni, we are learning so much, in class and outside of it, that it can be a time of accelerated change. This can lead to symptoms of anxiety. It is not unusual to find that what you want and who you are, is very different in your second or third year than it was in the first. And this can lead to a crisis of faith in your studies, or your future plans.
What is my future?
The future can be a scary place as it is. Even more so when you have spent so much on student debt, and the pressure builds to do something with it when it ends. You will be given an information overload on careers, with all kinds of different paths to take. But on the other hand, most careers no longer have a clear path, and the job of getting a job falls squarely on your shoulders. This can feel terrifying, unsettling, shocking, or just plain unfair. Others of us may want to do something different to when we started. That can feel like anxiety or a crisis about to happen: do you stick with the thing you paid for, or follow your new path?
Being emotional can be framed as being a negative thing in Western society. Many of us are led to believe that there is something wrong with us if we are feeling anxious, depressed or lost. In counselling this is not something that is wrong with us, this is a sign that something might need to change. You may need to reconnect with your values, or just get more support to stay grounded and in the moment. Emotions are a compass that show us the way to our true values. For example, if you feel anxious, this can be a sign that your survival instincts have kicked in. A part of you is recognising that you need to fight, or take flight, as you are experiencing a threat. For many students, this stress and anxiety is linked to fears of failure, or of success. What happens if I fail? I won’t survive the shame. What happens if I succeed? I won’t survive the ‘real world’. It’s scary stuff.
Counselling Can Help
Uni brings lots of different pressures: getting your assignments in on time; juggling work and studies; getting on with housemates; finding your place in the world. Student anxiety can get overwhelming and you might need some support to get through. Maybe you’re thinking something’s wrong because you are using more unhealthy habits to distract yourself, or you’re avoiding doing work. In my counselling I give you tools to manage anxiety or depression on a day to day basis, so you can start getting back in control. Meanwhile we talk through some of the deeper stuff that is going on for you, and make some long term changes where you choose to. Get in touch for a free phone consultation to see if you want to find out more.