If ever there were a time when expectations vs reality felt most applicable, it may well be in the case of the humble university experience *insert “the best years of your life” claims from family members, films and social media highlight reels everywhere.*
Whilst some thrive at university – with its 1pm starts and 3 for £10 Jagerbombs – it’s fair to say the lack of routine, Super Noodle dinners and homesickness can take its toll on your mental and physical wellbeing, resulting in feeling demotivated at best and downright overwhelmed at worst. If you’re currently battling the ups and downs that come with adjusting to your first or subsequent years of study, know that you’re not alone in this struggle and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and whichever aspect of university living you’re most concerned about, know that there’s support available to make the experience all the more smooth, enjoyable and perhaps even create some of those core memories you’ve been promised.
“University can be the first time in a lot of people’s lives when they don’t have a rota to live by,” says Ruki Heritage, Director of Student Experience at the University of Bedfordshire.
“At school, you know where to be, at what time and where to eat. At university you will have a lot more freedom and this can cause some people to feel unsettled, but it’s also an exciting time to develop your new routine, try new things and create a structure that works for you. Be kind to yourself and give yourself a break. Most people will start to settle in after a few weeks and the feelings of homesickness will pass over time. Feeling homesick is completely normal.”
Struggling with your mental health- be it a diagnosed condition or low mood- can be difficult to manage when you’re away from your usual support system and home comforts, but knowing where you can turn for a dose of comfort, help and guidance may be the reassurance you need in times of panic.
“Universities provide a really supportive environment and there are usually a lot of services available from counselling to mental health support, as well as support for students with additional needs.
If you are struggling or if you’ve arrived at university with a mental health condition, make sure you contact the Student Support team. Ruki Heritage
“If you are struggling or if you’ve arrived at university with a mental health condition, make sure you contact the Student Support team. Don’t suffer in silence – universities will offer counselling, mental health support and support for additional support needs, including specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia) or chronic health conditions. There will be a team of experts on hand to advise and guide you through the processes and the support available to you.
“Most universities will offer counselling or mental health support, or both. This will be free and confidential, so it won’t be shared with your family, your tutors or with anyone else without your consent. You will normally be able to see a university counsellor significantly quicker than via your GP. So, if you are feeling overwhelmed and want support, I would strongly advise reaching out to the university’s support teams.”
A study by Young Minds, a charity for young people and their parents, conducted research which found that one third (33%) of students surveyed felt lonely often or all of the time, and over three quarters (75.6%) of students hid their mental health symptoms from friends. If university life is making you feel overwhelmed, anxious and unhappy, you are not alone, and things can get better!
You may benefit from bringing a few items from home to university to give you a feeling of closeness to your familyRuki Heritage
“If you’re worried about being homesick, you may benefit from bringing a few items from home to university to give you a feeling of closeness to your family,” says Ruki. “Technology can also act as a major help with staying in contact with family and friends from back home. There are lots of ways to stay in touch from social media to video calls. I’d advise not calling every day as you want to give yourself space to meet new people, but regular contact often helps in reassuring or providing a sense of familiarity.”
Maintaining a so-called ‘healthy lifestyle’ is often said to be one of the best ways to manage your mental health, especially during those milestone moments like a move to university, but it’s worth noting that it’s often easier said than done to adopt this approach when life feels hectic. Yes, eating a veggie stir fry and drinking 2L of water a day is definitely going to help fuel your brain and combat Freshers Flu, but at times when it feels like your brain is working against you, the basics of self-care may feel out of reach. In instances like this, practising self compassion is key, creating a safe space for you to feel the spectrum of emotions that come with new chapters and not judging yourself for it.
Reminders if you’re struggling at university:
- This feeling is not permanent.
- I am safe to experience new things.
- I’m ready and capable of handling all that life throws at me.
- I take things one day at a time.
- I have survived my anxiety before. I can survive it now.
- It is safe to let go of controlling outcomes.
- I deserve to take care of myself.
- I am qualified to be here and deserving of the space to grow.
- It is okay to take things at my own pace.
For support at university, don’t be afraid to reach out to your local wellbeing team, and remember you are worthy of seeking support. The charity Student Minds is a wonderful resource for finding support for yourself, friends or even parents of those at university, including peer support programmes, advice for exam season and tips on transitioning into university for the first time.