Skip to main content

Advice and Counselling Service

Anxiety and panic attacks

The stress of student life

Studying can be demanding. It is natural to feel anxious about this, particularly at times of extra pressure such as exams, deadlines, presentations and medical OSCE exams.

Feeling anxious about formal assessments is very common and very normal. The fact is that you are being tested, explicitly about knowledge of your subject, but implicitly for your ability to perform under pressure, so in a way, you are meant to be anxious!

Performing under stressful conditions is an important attribute in the workplace, and being a graduate shows employers that you have proved you can do this. However, some people become so anxious that they can’t function at all.

There are other factors in the student experience which might contribute to anxiety, for example, living away from home, cohabiting with other students, socialising or personal finances.

Problems with anxiety

Problems with anxiety arise when we start to feel anxious more often and more intensely, when there is no real danger and it seems to happen without reason. It can stop you doing what you want to do in day to day life, get in the way of your studies or impact on your relationships but there are lots of things that can help.

Ways to avoid anxiety

  • Take care of your emotional wellbeing this means taking care of your physical, emotional and mental health by finding a balanced approach to life whilst you're a student.
  • Learn to manage stress better – Stress
  • Get support with your studies – Study
  • Develop strategies for overcoming exam anxiety: Managing Exam Anxiety [PDF 31KB]

Panic attacks

Someone having a panic attack experiences a sudden and intense sensation of fear. They may feel they have lost control and feel desperate to get out of the situation that has triggered their anxiety. Symptoms of panic attack include:

  • rapid breathing
  • feeling breathless
  • sweating
  • feeling very hot or cold
  • feeling sick
  • feeling faint or dizzy
  • tingling fingers
  • shivering or shaking
  • racing heart or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

The problem may get worse if over-breathing sets in because this triggers sensations such as confusion, cramps, pains and feelings of weakness. The symptoms of a severe panic attack can be quite similar to a heart attack and someone experiencing one may be convinced they are going to die.

How to manage panic attacks

Where to get help for anxiety

AnxietyUK provides a helpline and online information about a wide range of anxiety conditions and disorders.

No Panic provides support for people with panic attacks, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and general anxiety. They coordinate a network of self-help behaviour therapy groups and a confidential helpline for members. 

Living Life to the Full is a free online skills course based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for people feeling distressed or anxious. It helps you understand why you feel as you do and to make changes in your thinking, activities, sleep and relationships.

Triumph over Phobia (TOP UK) organises a network of weekly self-help groups for people with phobias and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Social Anxiety UK provides information, chatrooms, online discussions, self-help groups and a list of recommended books for people with social anxiety.

Try this quick and easy guide on how to cope with the things you worry about on the BBC website.


Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga. It helps us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, we're better able to manage them. Mindfulness is proven to help with stress and anxiety. To find out more look at the Mental Health Foundation's Be Mindful website.  

Apps for anxiety

Flowy Flowy is a mobile game being used by thousands of people to manage their panic attacks and anxiety. If you experience panic attacks or a high level of anxiety, Flowy can help you to feel more calm within 90 seconds of playing. Available to download from the Flowy website.

SAM a self-help app for anxiety developed by the University of the West of England specifically for students. A great app for anyone wanting to understand and track their anxiety which offers a range of self-help tools to manage anxiety. Available free to download from the Apple and Android app stores.


There are a number of books addressing anxiety issues available in the library through our Bibliotherapy scheme including the following:

  • Manage your Mind
  • Triumph over Shyness: Conquering Shyness and Social Anxiety
  • Panic attacks, what they are, why they happen and what you can do about them
  • Stress and Relaxation: A practical guide to self-help techniques
  • Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
Return to top