Anxiety in Academia


Okay, I want to start off with the dictionary definition of two words: 

 Academia: the environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education and scholarship.

 Anxiety: Feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

 Now I want to define these two words by my experience:

 Academia: A place I feel pushed to take creative risks in a safe and controlled environment. A place that I want to be and something that I love.

 Anxiety: surges of panic that make everything, including simple things, like breathing, feel like the most difficult and strenuous tasks. A feeling I hate and dread, but one that still comes back. 

 In my head the two words are polar opposite, ‘academia’ is something I love and a place I want to be, ‘anxiety’ is a feeling I wish I never had to feel. That said, both terms seem to harmonise nicely. I know, it doesn’t make sense in my head either. How can something you love so much, make you feel so uncomfortable? Why does this happen? I have given it a great deal of thought, and am still no closer to the answer. 

One thing is for certain, there is no way I am dropping out of academia. It is too important to me, and I have invested too much time and too much of myself into it. I have this drive for knowledge, something that other people within the field can understand. I have to see where I can take it, how far can I push myself… This mentality is great until it starts getting the better of you. You start beating yourself up, allowing the drive to run you over. 

Now, I think if you can control it, this mentality is perfect. Boundaries are there to be pushed, right? But when you start to attack yourself, to push these boundaries, it becomes counter-productive. You start to work against your own head. It’s as if you become two people; the person that wants to work and the person that has a positive drive, and this other person who is stopping you, throwing all of these problems in your face. Telling you that you will fail before you have even started. Telling you that it will go wrong. Telling you that you may as well just give up. 

 It is relentless. It is exhausting. It won’t stop no matter what you do and the worst part is that you want to do things. You have this crazy idea, and you get excited about it, the infinite possibilities and how far you could take it. Then the fear, that people will think that it is too crazy, that no one will support you, ‘they’ will laugh at you. You don’t know who ‘they’ are really but you just know that they will laugh. 

 The key is to push past it. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Your crazy idea should both scare and excite you. Allow yourself to feel the fear, and push through it in a healthy way. Boundaries are there to be pushed, but you have to be willing to push them.

Anxiety and academia go hand in hand for me. I lean into my anxiety to help me with my studies. Crazy? Yes. But that is okay. I have learned to use it effectively, and I will not let it hinder me. And neither should anyone else.

 If you learn to work with your anxiety, using it to your advantage there is nothing that you cannot do. It can work in your favour if you want it to, as there is a certain skill set that you develop through thinking in that way. You become far more organised and observant, you notice the little things that others don’t. This can be your source of inspiration. 

If you would like to explore what the student support team have to offer, you can find more information here.

by Amy Hardman

Falmouth SOWJ