Studying with anxiety

October 2022

Andy Murray explains how stress affected him and what he did to make his situation better
Experiencing anxiety for the first time while studying was not something I expected to encounter on my study journey. It’s hard to explain in words but it’s a mixture of feelings – confusion, isolation, sheer panic – and it’s very uncomfortable.

I’d never experienced anything like it. At first, I didn’t know what was happening and kept ignoring it, thinking it was just a bad day. It affected my study, sleep, social life, relationships and I couldn’t work.

Looking back, it’s was vital to take some time out, whether it’s an hour or, if you are fortunate like I was, a couple of months. Taking time to understand anxiety and what may trigger you to experience feelings of anxiety is really important in helping you develop coping strategies. The flexibility of studying part time enabled me to draw out the positive of having something to focus on without feeling the pressure of studying full time.

Anxiety is different for everyone and therefore some things help more than others. Keeping an open mind and using a combination of medication, meditation and counselling worked for me. I decided not to jump into a new role too quickly, not until I was ready to return to work. I took my time to put a plan in place to find my next employer. When looking at my next role I focused on companies that offered a culture I would find empowering, especially those who were supportive of my continued studies.

Having a plan of action has always helped me to focus. More than this, engaging in conversation helped me too. I spoke to my college to ensure working and studying together again wouldn’t be overwhelming. I received some great advice and found them to be open and supportive. I learnt to focus on one exam at a time and not to rush the learning and exam process. When I started to feel really anxious I knew that things could change very quickly, so not planning too far ahead was the best advice I was given.

Top tips to take away

• Take your time with studying – it’s not a race or a competition.

• Take some ‘you’ time. Reward yourself after certain milestones are met. For me, this might be for lunch or dinner, a trip to the cinema or a spa treatment for passing an exam or getting halfway through a level.

• It’s so easy to feel guilty if you’re not studying, but you need time to digest information and deserve frequent breaks.

Remember to put the books down too!

• Use your student networks for study support – I found some great Facebook groups with students and tutors that I wish I’d found much sooner!

• Remember why you are studying for the qualification. Focus on the long-term goals and aspirations. It is so worth it!

• Andy Murray is a former AAT student and now a fully qualified AAT member. See for next month’s PQ magazine for more from Andy.