Whether you are a fresher, or going back for your first- second- or third-year, the start of the academic year can be stressful and difficult.
If you are a student going off to college you may be about to experience your first real steps into an independent life. This is enormously exciting and brings the opportunity for learning, new people, new experiences, and new freedoms. But going to university also represents a massive change and upheaval in your life and not everybody finds it easy to adapt to change. In fact, adapting to new circumstances can take longer than you expected and some people find settling in very hard indeed.
Meanwhile everyone seems to be telling you, “These are best days of your life”. If people are constantly telling you how lucky you are to be there, but you are hating every minute, missing home, or worrying that you won’t fit in this can make you feel inadequate; rather than simply accepting that settling in could take you a while.
So here are some tips on how to adjust to university life:
DO NOT FEAR OR JUDGE. When you first start uni, you suddenly find yourself in new crowds expected to work out who is friend or foe very quickly. Obviously, if anyone makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, listen to those signals and avoid those people. Otherwise, and as a general rule, do not judge people too quickly. If you write people off as ‘too cool’, ‘not cool enough’, swotty, or nerdy, etc you could miss out on some great conversations or friendships that you’ll regret not having had later.
SHOW AN INTEREST. It might sound kind of dumb, but the single best way to make friends is to be interested in others. If you are open and receptive to new people and their ideas they will reciprocate.
BE THOUGHTFUL. No matter how fascinating you are to others, the people you live with will find you annoying if you don’t fit in to the house rules and do your fair share of the household chores, etc.
DON’T FORGET YOU. While you are thinking about being kind to others, be sure to apply this to yourself too. Allow yourself the time you need to settle in so you don’t hold up unreasonable expectations but instead give yourself space to do this your way.
SEEK THE POSITIVE. One of my clients in private practice described her first few weeks at uni as ‘a misery fest’ in which everyone seemed to want to bitch and complain about every aspect of the college. It is easy to see why this kind of venting can be satisfying, but is not very supportive to yourself or others as you find your way in to this new world and work out for yourself what is good and bad about it.
FRESHERS WEEK IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. Extroverts may thrive in all the get-to-know you events. But those with a more introverted bent could find the expectation of being able to socialise in massive groups a bit much. That’s fine. Don’t stress about it, you don’t have to join in with everything, there will be smaller and quieter events too. That said…
RESIST HIDING AWAY. In this early phase of a new college, it might seem that everyone else is out having fun, drinking, carousing, getting to know each other and making friends. This might set up strong a desire in you to sit alone in your room. Try to resist this.
REMEMBER: EVERYONE STRUGGLES AT SOME POINT. Even if they all look as though they are floating through each term on clouds of fun and happiness, they will be having their battles too. So if you are struggling with sadness, social anxiety, stress, or depression there is NO SHAME in it. Any new experience or change makes us vulnerable. But vulnerability is not shameful, it is what enables us to be strong. True fact.
INCORPORATE ANTICIPATION. This can be something really small like going to a movie, having a coffee in a café, or scheduling in a Skype with your best friend back home, but if you book something you really enjoy into your week it can relieve the social and/or academic pressure a little.
DON’T COMPARE. It is so easy to fall into the trap of measuring yourself against the achievement of others, but why would you only value your success if it stacks up with those of others? It doesn’t make sense; you are completely different people learning and attaining in different ways and at different paces. Instead compare yourself to your self, then you will realise how far you’ve come and that you know so much more than you did a year ago, or two weeks ago, and that you have the potential to learn much more.
BE BOUNDARIED. No one will tell you that it’s okay to stop studying at 2am or on the weekend. You have to set the boundaries so that you are not completely overwhelmed by this academic step up and its demands on you. You do deserve to take time out to rest or walk or go out for that coffee. And you need to.
TALK. IT REALLY HELPS. All things being equal, university could well be one of the best times in your life, but if things feel rocky at the start it will really help if you have someone you can talk to, and you are able to talk to them. Tell a friend, a parent, anyone or everyone about what you are going through. You will be surprised how many people are experiencing the same things. If this does not feel enough, all unis have pastoral support and most of them have a counselling service.
We have a team of experienced counsellors and psychotherapists across London. Just call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] if you would like a confidential appointment.