It’s that time of the year again, when droves of young, bright things begin their university chapter. It may be seven years since I was a fresher but amidst the blurry memories of nights out, I remember the excitement of gaining independence and the endless opportunities to make new friendships…oh and of course studying. The first year of university is a huge transition and amongst the excitement of it all, it’s very common to feel rather overwhelmed by such unfamiliarity, which can have an impact on your mental health. However, I am here to help with some tips to ease this transition so that you can have the most fulfilling time as a student. This mental health guide is for freshers and other university students.
1. Making Friends
Remember that you’re not the only one who is worried about making friends. Everyone is as anxious and eager to form friendships. On arrival, leave your room door opened whilst you’re unpacking. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to others in your building or course and get their phone numbers. Whatsapp groups for your flat or corridor in halls are great for organising socials or agreeing to walk to lectures together. Always be true to yourself and step away from people who have a negative influence on you.
Favourite Tip: Keeping a stash of tea and biscuits will instantly make you loved.
Money problems can be stressful so take control of your finances by finding out what student grants you’re entitled to, keep track of your balance and work out a weekly budget (and stick to it!). Taking on a part-time job is also an option, as long as it doesn’t affect your studies. An overdraft is also something to consider but think very carefully about future debts.
Favourite Tip: If you’re struggling financially, don’t ignore the problem and seek help from student support services.
3. Living Away From Home
Not everybody will miss home. Personally, I was too keen to get away from home, but along with my periods of depression, I struggled with being vulnerable whilst being apart from my family. Thank goodness for Facetime which means that no one is ever too far away.
Maybe you won’t miss people, but you’re finding it difficult to adapt to living away from home in terms of laundry, cooking and living away from other home comforts. It’s best to think of university as a half-way house between living with your parents and complete independence. This new adjustment will be shared with many other students and there’s a community spirit which will help you adapt to a new routine easily. Many universities have catered halls with laundry facilities for first year students. (Yes, I did choose this easy option!)
Favourite Tip: Don’t isolate yourself when you’re feeling homesick. There will be many who will feel the same. If you’re feeling lonely, there are endless clubs and societies to join. The chances are you’ll meet like-minded people and make further friendships.
4. Drink and Drugs
For a lot of people, going on nights out and socialising is a huge part of university life. Unfortunately there’s a misconception that you need to drink to have fun, therefore many students feel a pressure to drink or drink more than they would usually. Nights out and alcohol are not synonymous. If you feel more comfortable ordering a soft drink at a bar, do not let anyone else make you doubt your own decision.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking in moderation and responsibly. However do not use it as a coping mechanism to reduce stress or overcome inhibitions. Alcohol is in fact a depressant and it won’t help with dealing with stress. Similarly, the use of drugs will only worsen your problems and certain drugs have been linked to mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia.
Favourite Tip: If going to a club isn’t what you’re about, there are plenty of alternatives. Over the last five years, we have seen an increase in alternative fresher week events organised by student unions which don’t involve alcohol or nightclubs.
5. Exam Stress
I, personally empathise with anyone who has severe anxiety or panic attacks from overwhelming stress. There are self-help tools such as breathing exercises and mindfulness available online. Apps like Simple Habit are great for guided meditation (I wish I had known about these practices when I was at university). For those who feel that they can’t cope with the stress and see no escape, it is common for those thoughts to manifest into suicidal thoughts. If you start to have suicidal thoughts, you need to communicate and express your feelings to someone you trust (tutor, friend, family etc). If you feel that there is no one who you can confide in, call PAPYRUS HOPELineUK on 0800 068 4141. Remember that you are never alone.
At the time, exams may seem like the be all and end all, so it’s important to remind yourself to simply try your best. Even if your results don’t work out as well as you had expected, there will always be lots of other options.
Favourite Tip: Remember that exam and assessment results do not define you as person.
6. Sex and Relationships
Enjoying a sexual relationship can be very rewarding and satisfying when it is consensual. There is nothing wrong with saying no if you feel uncomfortable. It is never acceptable for someone to force or pressure you into having sex. To avoid any misunderstanding, get talking.
In this day and age, there are multiple methods of contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies, STIs and HIV. A few of the most effective are condoms, contraceptive pills and IUD. Make sure that you have regular sexual health check ups.
Some of us know if we’re heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual from a young age and some find out later on in life. It is common for us to feel attracted to those who we’re close to or have respect for- no matter what gender they are. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re gay, lesbian or bisexual. If you want further support or information visit www.rainbow-project.org and www.cara-friend.org.uk
Favourite Tip: Lasting relationships thrive off communication. Let each other know, what you want, don’t want and how you feel.
7. Looking Out for Others
1 in 5 of us will experience a mental health problem, so we need to look out for others as well as ourselves. Simply listening to others is a huge source of support. A part of friendship is to listen to your friends’ worries or stresses but don’t take on more than you can handle.
Life will present us with tough times and there will be periods of difficulty when things seem hopeless. If someone tells you that they’re having suicidal thoughts, take them seriously. Even if they ask you to not repeat this to anyone else, you have to remember that the reason they’re telling you, is because they want help. Suggest to them that they need extra support and maybe even offer to go with them.
Favourite Tip: Instead of giving your opinions, listen with sensitivity; don’t make judgements, don’t interrupt, make eye-contact and be prepared to help your friend gain access to further support.
I cannot express how important self-care is. In the chaos and novelty of university life, it’s easy to not look after yourself. After Freshers week, establishing a routine will be become easier. The key self-care practices that you must follow are:
- Getting into a regular sleeping pattern – use an app like Sleep Cycle.
- Eating healthily – don’t resort to high volumes of caffeine and takeaways. Everyone CAN cook and there are so many simple and cost-effective recipes online.
- Exercising regularly – join a sports team or outdoor activity society. Walk to places instead of hopping on a bus.
- Taking the time to relax – wind down and recharge is essential for positive mental wellbeing. Read a book, watch a film, take a bath – it’ll reduce anxiety and make you more productive in the long-term.
Favourite Tip: Most importantly, it is YOUR health and wellbeing what matters. If you’re feeling so overwhelmed that you start to lose hope in the future, help is needed and help is available. There is no shame in asking for help or saying that you’re not okay so it’s very important to not isolate yourself when these feelings take over. Ignoring the problem will only make things worse for yourself so talk to someone who you trust as soon as possible.
9. Take Control
We’re all different and you need to do what is best for you. It is important to know yourself; your limits, your strengths, what makes you happy, what makes you unhappy. Having this knowledge will give you control over your mental health. Remember to think carefully about how the choices you make will have an affect on your life. If you make a mistake don’t let that fear stop you from doing things. We all make mistakes, we’re not perfect and sometime mistakes are unavoidable. Learn from them and move on.
Have fun, keep safe and good Luck!
Please share your student wellness tips in a comment below.