Going to university can be a stressful time for everybody, whether you're moving away from home or not, simply starting something new can be scary. But for people with anxiety this kind of change can be even more difficult.
Here's a few tips and tricks I picked up during my three years four hours away from home.
1. Everyone is new.
One of the most difficult things for any person to do is to strike up a conversation with someone they don't know and in Freshers, that's what you'll spend most of your time doing. The one thing that I kept saying to myself when I got a sudden wave of panic in the lead up to moving was that everyone was in the same boat. Sure there are a few people who might've moved with friends or are local but the majority of people won't know anyone else and won't know the people they are living with. If you think you're all new and all nervous it makes you all kindred spirits before you've even summoned up the nerve to say hey.
They don't say take a doorstop to halls of residence for nothing. It's good solid advice, doors open whilst you're unpacking means it's much more likely someone will pop their head in to introduce themselves and then you don't have to be the one to awkwardly say hi. If someone invites you to an event or to come sit in the communal lounge, remember they're extending a hand of friendship and they want new pals too. However, know your limits and don't be afraid to turn something down if you know it won't do you any good. Been invited on a pub crawl when you don't drink and hate clubbing? It's alright to make the excuses of having to unpack and not go. All in moderation.
I have a real anxiety issue with the unknown, something I am sure I am not alone in. Doing some research beforehand was key to me flourishing in uni and something that kept me calm, knowing I had the relevant information. Have a little Google maps tour of your new town so you recognise things when you get there, scout out some of your favourite shops or fast food chains so you know there's a familiar vice and do some research into where the student services are.
Research can't provide you with everything and if in doubt, ask. You might need to work up to it and approaching people to ask 'where is so and so' is something no Brit likes to do (have you ever asked for directions whilst driving? No me neither). If you need to know where student support is or the doctors, 99% of universities have a 'Freshers' page on Facebook where you can post and ask the question and have 723578357 experienced first and second years help you in minutes.
5. Know your triggers.
Chances are, you will have been dealing with anxiety for years before you even get to uni, even if you hadn't realised that's what it was (I hadn't!). Knowing your triggers is vital to dealing with university life and the changes you are making. It is so important to be in tune with your mental health and know what is too much for you and how to manage things like medication when you are finding it too much. Knowing what works to bring you back down is also hugely important. Ringing my mum as I walked back from uni to digest the day was one habit I got into which helped me.
6. Be prepared.
If you do take medication for anxiety make sure you go to university prepared. Make sure you have in place what you need, have repeat prescriptions on order and register with your university doctor or a local GP. Don't leave anything to chance or leave it to the last minute, your stress levels will only spike if you haven't prepared what you need.
7. Know how to get home.
To deal with Freshers I actually went home just 3 days after moving in to halls. I went home in the induction week, stayed there for a few days, packed up the rest of my belongings and then went back to uni and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I managed to spend 3 days having the time of my life meeting new people and exploring my new town whilst knowing if I didn't like it I only had '2 more sleeps' till I was home. Then the few days I had at home I had all the FOMO seeing the fun my new friends were posting all over Facebook it made me actively excited to get back up there when the time came. Moral of the story; if home is your safe place make sure you know you can get there. And if money is tight and the train is 50 quid go and speak to the welfare office, people will not let you struggle.
8. Push yourself...
There are so many different opportunities available to you when you go to university and it is easy to miss out on them all. Whilst I spent my three years away I had a load of chances and opportunities that triggered my anxiety, but the ones I pushed myself to do (or the ones I couldn't come up with a valid excuse not to do!) always turned out to be the best memories I have looking back. If you can find your sense of adventure despite how you're feeling, grab it with both hands!
9....But don't force it.
On the flip side, know when enough is enough. There is no point pushing yourself into something that will not help your mental health. I declined a few trips and when I woke up so dizzy the floor was spinning to 'simply' go on a coach trip an hour away, I knew that day it just wasn't happening. Find a balance.
10. Stay organised.
University work itself is hard enough. Staying on top of it is vital and being organised is key to that. Write everything important down so you don't forget a deadline, manage your files, use your calendars, print off your timetable, prioritise what needs doing first and don't let the things further down the list fall to the wayside. Staying on top of your workload is probably the most important thing on the list in my opinion because staying ahead with your academia means the social living side to university and your mental wellbeing will benefit.
11. Tell someone.
And finally, if you ARE struggling, tell someone. Sitting in silence and not being able to break the cycle can only end badly and your mental (and probably physical) health will suffer. If you don't feel comfortable in speaking to your peers, your flatmates or your classmates, speak to someone professional. Universities have student support and welfare teams whose only job is to speak to the students and help them when they need it, in any capacity. Remember you are not the first and you won't be the last student who needs that extra help and your tutors will have seen it all and will know how to aid you.
Dealing with anxiety is a very personal preference as each person manages it differently, just as everyone's triggers are different. Having an in depth knowledge of your mental wellbeing is key to managing your time at university but above all - enjoy yourself, it really is the most selfish, most exciting time of your life!
If you liked this you might also like 'Let's Get Political'.