How I secured a first-class degree whilst battling with mental health

I have always had issues with low self-esteem since secondary school, but it was during the summer of 2015 that I was officially diagnosed with anxiety. My panic attacks first started appearing around late teens but I didn’t know what they were. And if someone isn’t aware of what something is, then they can’t treat it.

Mental health awareness didn’t exist during my school experience, no one talked about it back then whereas now, the dialogue has changed radically. Campaign in wider society has pushed this issue to the fore and gradually the embarrassment is now beginning to lessen. Suffering from this disorder causes an overhaul of life direction with continuous self-questioning of what you are doing, where you are heading, what it is that you actually want to do. I faced all of this, feeling I was not good enough.

After hitting the peak of my anxiety, I needed to take time out to regroup my mental state. Yes, I wanted to give up and if up to me, perhaps I would have. It was the support of family and friends that I think pulled me through most of the time when I was unable to myself. I think that this support mechanism is vital, and where there is no familial network, therapy is invaluable. I found that despite having such support around me, I greatly benefitted from speaking to a third person i.e. a therapist.

So, my advice to anyone in the same position I was in, is to seek out professional help first and foremost. Don’t expect them to take away your problems – they can’t do that and nor is it their job. They will be that shoulder you can lean on while you unravel the maze for yourself.

My starting point was getting to know myself. I evaluated how I work in terms of pace and approach. When you do this inventory of yourself, you have to be brutally honest. So, know your learning patterns.

I made sure I got adequate sleep, worked on my diet, ensuring I consumed food that was high in nutritional value and exercised where I could, not necessarily in the gym but walking as much as I could and learning yoga. Therefore, adopt a holistic approach to your health.

Next I tackled organising myself. I used website material to help with timetabling. This allowed me to polish my ability to prioritise workload and be able to revise and work effectively. The key to good organisational skills, is to break down tasks into smaller chunks to make it more manageable.

I also found that studying the learning objectives carefully, enabled me to focus my study more precisely. Through this, I was able to meet the criteria that examiners and coursework assessors. Investigating learning objectives and mark schemes pays dividends in the end.

Gradually, I found a sense of increased confidence and I truly believe that the merging of my mind, body and spirit contributed to a feeling of self-worth. Develop a positive identity because negative thought will hinder you.

I knew early on that the dissertation would physically and mentally drain me, thus it was imperative that I pick a topic area I enjoyed and was something that genuinely interested me. Since your final grade will depend on making the right decisions, it’s worth thinking carefully about original pieces of research that are integral on most undergraduate degrees.

Most of us fail to appreciate how essential good time management actually is and consequently, valuable wasted minutes turn into weeks on end, eventually turning into months and months. There will be times that you suffer setbacks and anxiety will heighten. Anxiety clouds judgement so having given yourself enough time for that, you still stay within the projected timetabling. Overcoming procrastination really is the ultimate test upon which success lies.

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