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Starting University

Posted 18th September 2019

Starting university can be an exciting, if not nerve-wracking time, for all first-time students. Whether you’re going to university straight after 6th form or you’ve taken a gap year, the change from being dependent to independent can feel both daunting and liberating.

Since getting your results, you will have already made some major decisions such as choosing which university you’re going to, where you’re going to live and sorting out student loans.  For some people, these initial steps before you’re even at university can feel overwhelming, uncertain and something for the grown-ups to sort out!

Everyone is different and manages worries and uncertainty differently.  Being prepared can alleviate some of the initial anxiety.  This involves some practical steps to take to ensure that you’re ready.  Make a list of things you need for your course, ensure you check your emails for welcome emails from your university and your course.  These will give details of resources you need, start dates and welcome week.  If you have any questions or need further information, send an email or simply give them a call.  There will be someone at the other end willing to answer your questions and offer help.

Once you are allocated accommodation, see if it’s possible to link up with others you may be living with or studying with.  There are plenty of group chats and Facebook pages that you can follow and subscribe to, to connect with others.  That way you can decide between you whether it’s worth buying a kettle each or if you’d like to share some kitchen utensils.  Registering at university when you arrive will start the process of getting your student loan. 

Of course, we are all different and the process of leaving home and going to university is a time of transition when we might experience a range of feelings and emotions.  Transition times can feel quite ordinary and predictable or ‘one of those things’ to get on with, but they can also leave us feeling terrified, overwhelmed, out of control and vulnerable.  Whatever you are feeling will be a completely understandable response to managing times of change.  Think back to when you first started secondary school.  What was that like?  Can you remember how that felt?  What kind of experience did you have?  Were teachers helpful?  Did you make friends?  If you can’t remember, it may be worth checking with a family member, either a parent or carer to find out what it was like.  Past events can give us clues to how we manage similar situations in the present. 

If you are leaving home for the first time, this might affect others in your family.  Are there brothers or sisters who may be affected?  It might be a relief to think of being away from any siblings but there might also be some sadness at not having family around whether you see them a lot or not.  Parents or carers can also feel anxious at the change that is to come and that might feel a challenge especially if you are an only child or the eldest or first in your family to leave home.  Be assured that you won’t be the only person feeling like this and it will really help to talk about it.  Even a simple verbal acknowledgement that you will miss your brother or your mum or whoever is really important to you will ease some of the pressure of having to be okay or ‘hold it together’.  If you are feeling upset, it is more than likely that they will too and if it is aired then sometimes a bit of laughter can ease any embarrassment but make everyone feel better in the process! 

So, the day arrives, you’ve been dropped off, said your goodbyes and you spend your first hours in your new accommodation, perhaps you’ve even made something to eat!  Just the act of preparing a meal or making a warm drink can bring some comfort if you’re feeling the separation from your family.  Remember you’ve been preparing for this moment for years going through 6th form or college, doing your exams and now you get to run things how you’d always imagined!  

Then the task begins of meeting new people and making friends.  This might be easier said than done and feel quite scary especially if you’ve had negative experiences in the past or if you feel anxious.  Perhaps some simple breathing exercises* might help before you start to introduce yourself.  Everyone is in the same boat so it helps to be as friendly and as open as possible.  It might help to have a few questions prepared – what are they studying?  Is there a night out that you’ve heard about that you could suggest to your new flat mates?  What do they already know about the area such as supermarkets or local facilities?  What societies and clubs are there? Societies can be a great help in connecting with like-minded people or an opportunity for trying out something new.

It will take a few days to get used to your new environment and to get used to new people which can at times just feel awkward.  There is a lot of new information to take in which can feel overwhelming for some.  Perhaps you’re someone who likes quiet and your flat is full of people who like to party?  In an effort to fit in you may feel pressured into doing things that you might not usually do such as drinking too much or taking drugs.  Your course may be very demanding and you may be struggling to keep up or get the necessary grades to get to the next stage. Or you may just feel lonely, or different like you don’t fit in and unable to link in with any friendship groups either on your course or elsewhere.  If how you’re feeling makes attending lectures difficult or you find yourself engaging in risky behaviour that isn’t really you or withdrawing from social situations, when even going into the kitchen to make a cup of tea can feel like abseiling the Shard, then it may be worth checking out the health and wellbeing provision offered by your university as well as speaking with your personal tutor.

Universities are very aware of the difficulties new students may face with settling into university life and are well placed to offer comprehensive support and wellbeing resources throughout your time of study.  Ensure you’re registered with a GP and seek out their support.  They will be able to connect you with the appropriate service within the university or a different NHS provision.  Also speak with your family and friends and let them know how you are feeling.  Just talking can ease things.  This could be by phoning, messaging, Facetime, WhatsApp or a Skype conversation.  There are many ways to keep in touch.

You might find it helpful to seek further support through talking therapies.  Check out what your university wellbeing service offers, their help and support will be there throughout the time you are at university so while some aspects of their service will be limited such as the number of counselling sessions, they may be able to offer other forms of support such as self help books and resources or therapeutic groups, etc.  If you have the financial means and/or family support to access therapy privately, this could be either for a limited number of sessions or on a longer term basis.  It can also be possible to access lower cost therapy, just speak to your counselling service or GP for organisations to access.

Whatever your start to leaving home and going to university, it is Important to remember that as you adjust, there will be times of stress.  But by getting the right information, not struggling alone until it’s too late and staying connected with those important to you, even when things seems difficult, will minimise those stress levels so that you stay in control, giving you the best start to independence and university life.

*The following links are just a few of the many available that may be useful

http://mindfulnessforstudents.co.uk/

https://www.calm.com/

https://shop.mind.org.uk/shop/booklets

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/