You have just handed in your final essay for university. Two weeks have passed. An email lands in your inbox from your lecturer. They would like to speak with you at your earliest convenience. Anxiety has just kicked in.
All of a sudden you go into a massive panic attack. “oh my God, I’ve failed.” Automatically you feel as if the whole world has come crashing down. Your heart starts pumping, your palms become sweaty and you start to think “OMG what am I going to do?”
Yet, you don’t know what the lecturer is going to say. You don’t even know if there is a problem. Maybe they are wanting to let you know that you have written an excellent essay and they want to commend you on your research rather than send it via email.
What you have done is you have catastrophized. Those that suffer with panic attacks are more prone to catastrophizing. You have a tendency to jump off the cliff before checking your safety harness.
It’s ok, many of us who have suffered with panic attacks still do the same thing from time to time. Yet, knowing how to control the thoughts which control your feelings leading to negative behaviour is something to be learned over time.
How to start controlling your thoughts and stop catastrophizing. This can be done through writing.
- As soon as a catastrophizing thought enters your mind, write it down.
- Write down what triggered this thought, what happened
- List your feelings
- Jot down the behaviour you have just experienced
- Finally, write down the reality of all possible outcomes.
It looks better on paper – correct? You can externalize your feelings now.
Worst case scenario, the only way you could possibly fail an essay at university is if you didn’t answer the question. As long as you know you have answered the question and followed the criteria then the likelihood of failing is almost impossible.
Usually lecturers will not contact you to let you know you have failed.
There is another way to approach this situation and that is taking control of the anxiety, fear, panic attack and work through a what if situation. This allows you to face your fear head on and take control.
List your fear from the current situation. Then list down what would happen if you failed the essay and what would you do. Finally write down the likelihood of you failing. If you hesitate and know that it would be unlikely then you have just taken control.
Of course it’s a little more complex than that but you get the general idea. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn the techniques, monitor and apply the skills. One of the most important things to do, and from my own experience is to speak to someone that knows how to walk you through this a few times. Not only will it calm you down but put everything back into perspective.
Anxiety is very real. We don’t have to let it keep controlling our lives. Decide if you want the control back and take the first step.
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BSW, Dip. Couns.