‘SAM’ , the self-help app designed by UWE researchers, is hoped to provide a new tool to help anxiety sufferers overcome symptoms. Lauren Moore gives the details. 

A self-help app for anxiety sufferers has been released by the UWE Department of Psychology and the UWE Department of Computer Science and Creative Technology during the summer. The app is called SAM and is designed to support individuals through bouts of anxiety by offering thing such as a meditation timer, relaxing exercises and a ‘Social Cloud’ where users can share experiences and offer support. The creators of the app have stressed that they have developed SAM with university students in mind; as it is students who are often overloaded with sources of anxiety. It is certainly true that students are often bombarded with stresses that can lead to anxiety. However anxiety as an illness remains widely undiagnosed, often mistaken for depression or stress.

The vast majority of students have experienced stress. Everyone has experienced that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling walking into an exam room, it’s normal, and sometimes it actually helps. Stress is usually a sign that we care and want to do well, and it can help to keep us focused and alert. Anxiety, however, is different.  It isn’t normal and it doesn’t help.  Symptoms, like that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling, can feel very similar to stress: the difference being there is nothing to be stressed about. If we’re sitting at home watching television but feeling like we’re in an exam, we might suspect something isn’t quite right. Sweaty palms, nausea and a sense of dread are all symptoms of anxiety that can be confused with stress; and it’s up to the individual to spot the difference and seek the right help. Anxiety is surprisingly widespread and particularly common in students. Students can find themselves under enormous pressure, and it is this pressure that can bring on the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Even from the beginning, starting university is a huge transition. For example; it can involve moving away from home, often to another part of the country (or another country). We have to sort out our own accommodation for the first time dealing with rent, bills and the food shop with very little money.  We have to establish a new social life and make new friends. Then we may even have to find a job! Whether working around university or in an unfamiliar professional environment such as an internship or work experience, we’re constantly adapting.  On top of all of this we’re juggling lectures, seminars, weekly readings, coursework and exams! It’s a lot to put on an 18-year-old’s shoulders.  Anxiety can kick in here. Doubts can circle our minds as to whether we’re making enough friends; on the right course, spending money smartly or doing the right internship.

Unfortunately it never really gets easier. As graduation approaches, and the ‘drop-off point’ into the employment market moves sooner and sooner, new fears enter the student mind.  We picture that perfect version of ourselves on graduation day; 2:1 in the bag, work experience under the belt, extra-curriculars on the C.V. and a graduate job waiting in the wings.  The pressure to give ourselves the best start, especially in this dreadful economy, can leave us feeling that we have the weight of the world on our shoulders.