With Freshers over, Gemma Sowerby takes you through why and how you should be looking after yourself and your mental health in first year and beyond
Whether you’re a new student or an old hat, readjusting to university life after a summer of travelling, home cooking, and lie-ins can be a challenge. Not just on your body clock, or your friendships, but your state of mind too—don’t underestimate the effect that a lifestyle change this big can cause. For some, it’s perfect: Back into the old routine, with the motivation to get out of bed every morning. To those of you angelic enough to relish in the thought of 7am starts, good luck to you. I’m sure you’re smugly drinking smoothies at the front row of a lecture theatre, in your trainers ready for the run home. For others, it may not be that simple.
For many, home is where the heart is, and your first semester can generate some unsettling feelings. While only a small percentage of students will suffer from a mental health problem during their time at university, feeling low or anxious is increasingly common. A 2014 YouGov survey of 2,300 British adults revealed that “students and people not in employment are more likely to feel anxious some of the time or all of the time,” and that “a third of students said they cope by ‘hiding themselves away from the world’”.
We all know that a problem shared is a problem halved, and it’s important not to let these feelings build up over time to the point where they become something more troublesome. Staying in touch with your emotions and your mindset is just as important as handing in that first piece of coursework on time and eating your five-a-day. (News just in: Just looking at the frozen spinach in Sainsbury’s once a week counts!) The charity Mind suggests building on this idea, and introducing a five-a-day of wellbeing, focusing on staying active and engaged, to help you through the tough times.
The lightning speed pace of university life is enough to knock the most sure-footed student off their Nike clad feet. Expectations are high—socially, academically, and emotionally—and maintaining a world-shatteringly awesome social life, achieving a first and running 10km a day is only going to end in tears (and severe sleep deprivation). Pick some reasonable goals for your first semester, and fully commit yourself to achieving them.
Third year English and French student Lauren says: “For me, particularly during Freshers, it was important to really know what I did and didn’t want to do. There’s more pressure at uni than you might expect, and though you might not know exactly who you are yet, it is the worst time to start following a crowd. Be yourself!”
You don’t have to be, do, or act like anyone else. Ever. If the going gets tough, consider all the things that make you you, and bring them to the forefront of your personality; we’re not all professional actors, and as glam as your Instagram might be, if watching Adam Sandler movies on Netflix is your number one hobby, you should get it out there. This will lift so many worries and thoughts, such as “Am I cool girl enough?” or “Am I demonstrating the perfect balance between lads’ lad and sensitive boyf material?”
Third year PPE student Ben says: “Don’t be afraid to try new things, and force yourself out of your comfort zone. But be aware that everyone is in the same boat, and even for the most confident and outgoing people it takes time to find your niche.” (Beware, though, that Adam Sandler movies really are terrible, and you should probably rethink your so-called hobby…)
By far the most widely discussed cause of worry and sadness at university is, of course, actual university. Did you forget that you have to study? If the note-taking is getting too much, the essay deadlines are really stacking up, or if you just really have no idea what your biomechanics lecturer is going on about, do not panic: You’re not alone.
University is no easy feat, hence why loads of people don’t make it there in the first place. You did, and you should be proud. Don’t be one of those 40 per cent scrapers if it’s not going to make you happy—you probably could be spending at least a couple of days a month doing all-nighters, but this is for you to determine, and no one else. Equally, if you’re regularly in Ali G at 4am, it might be time to learn where the line is between a healthy grade and a healthy mind. Once you’ve given it all you’ve got, there’s nothing more you can do.
If you are feeling like you need some help, The University of Manchester Counselling Service says: “Talking to a counsellor can be great, but there is also a lot you can do for yourself. Try the Counselling Service’s new online self-help programme Silvercloud, and use upcoming Wellbeing Week as an opportunity to try out new ways to look after your head at university.”
Head to Mind for more information on their Five Ways to Wellbeing plan, and visit www.manchester.ac.uk/counselling for more information on the Counselling Service, to make an appointment, and for online guides and self-help tools.