We will all be stressed or anxious at some point in our lives. When our stress or anxieties become very difficult to manage, it may be time to visit your campus or home GP to share your thoughts and request support.
Stress is an evolutionary response we have developed as humans to threats detected in our environment. When our stress is at a manageable level it can motivate us to meet deadlines and face problems head on. If we become too stressed, we may find it hard to concentrate, to think logically or to make well-thought out decisions. Managing our stress is key and we can do this by looking after our wellbeing, balancing our workload and seeking support from those around us when we need it.
Anxiety disorders are more severe and prolonged than the anxieties or stresses we face every day. Everyone will experience anxiety differently, but there are some common symptoms including dizziness; tiredness; a strong, fast or irregular heartbeat; muscle aches or tension; trembling or shaking; excessive sweating; shortness of breath; stomach ache; feeling sick; headache; pins and needles; insomnia.
Some people’s experiences of anxiety can include having panic attacks. When someone has a panic attack their body releases a large amount of adrenaline into their system. This aims to put your body on high alert but can cause one’s chest to feel tight and make it hard to breathe. Other symptoms may include sweating, shaking/trembling, feeling sick or tingling arms or legs. For some people, panic attacks can make them feel like they are dying.
We know that panic attacks are not life threatening, in fact despite the symptoms, a panic attack won’t cause any physical harm. However, they can feel terrifying for the person having them, particularly if it has never happened before. Panic attacks usually last between 10 – 30 minutes after which breathing and heartbeat will return to normal.
During a panic attack it is hard to find out from the person what they need as they will be unable to communicate with us. Instead, keep calm and make sure they are not crowded by people. Reassure them that you are here and that you are going to stay with them. You can tell them that you think they’re having a panic attack, that it will pass and you will be there until it does.
People will have different ways of managing their panic attacks. One way is to focus on breathing out. You can explain to the person you are going to start breathing slowly with a big exhale. Ask them to try and join in when they can. This may take a while but keep talking to them calmly and breathing slowly. Other people may wish to leave the situation they are in when they feel a panic attack beginning. Go with them and stay with them until they feel calm again.
Following a panic attack people may feel exhausted and run down. Find out what you can do to help them afterwards, by asking them. If the person isn’t feeling well after the panic attack or it has been different to their other experiences of a panic attack, they can go to A&E. If the panic attack lasts longer than 20 minutes without change, or they are experiencing chest pain during or after, call 999 for an ambulance.