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Freshers Week 2022: how to look after your mental health

August 29, 2022
By
Tracie Burgess

Doing more to support students’ mental health and wellbeing is a major focus for 80% of UK universities this year, according to learning and engagement platform Kortext, which surveyed senior university leaders.

While many people have some of the best times of their life at university or college, it can also be an overwhelming and stressful experience. There’s a lot of pressure, and it’s natural to feel apprehensive about things like meeting new people, adjusting to new routines and situations, juggling studying with a social life, and managing a budget.

The university leaders involved in the survey reported that the most common concerns impacting students’ wellbeing were worries about academic performance and securing a job after graduation, along with anxiety over their finances.

Whatever your circumstances, heading off to university is a major life transition. Everybody responds to change differently – but if you feel like you’re struggling, or student life isn’t as enjoyable as you expected, here are some practical tips to help you manage.

Remember everyone’s in the same boat

Many people moving away to attend university will be living away from home for the first time. It’s normal to feel lonely, out of place and stressed, or to experience imposter syndrome, imagining you’re not doing as well as the people around you. You won’t be alone in this – many of your peers will be feeling exactly the same.

Set boundaries

Don’t put yourself under pressure to have fun! You don’t have to do everything, do what everyone else is doing, or go out every night. Your health and wellbeing are more important, so take things at your own pace. There’s nothing wrong with clearing some space and time to recalibrate, whether it’s to have an early night, to read, or to Facetime your mum.

Join some clubs or societies

Think about starting a new sport or hobby – or carrying on with an old one. It’s a good way of meeting like-minded people, and building a new support network, and will give you a way to unwind.

Be kind to yourself

Get some proper sleep – being knackered can seriously affect your state of mind. Have a day off drinking every now and again, and while it’s tempting to have Pop Tarts for every meal just because you can, try and eat some fruit and veg each day.

Alcohol and Freshers’ Week go hand in hand – but overdoing it can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety and low mood. Students may also be tempted to try other substances for the first time, perhaps because they’re easier to get hold of and there are no parents watching – however this can lead to more serious mental health difficulties, amongst other issues.

Stay in touch with ‘people back home’

Reaching out to your old friends will help you avoid feeling a bit ‘set adrift’. Schedule in video calls, or set up a WhatsApp group. Check in with close friends and family regularly, and if you’re struggling tell them how you're feeling.

Find out what support is available

Most universities have a welfare or wellbeing team, as well as counselling services. Take a look at the students’ union section of the university website, or ask Student Services to point you in the right direction. The UCAS website and Whatuni.com also have some great advice and information about mental health and wellbeing.

Register with a GP as soon as possible, so if you need professional support you can access this quickly.

Recognise when you need to ask for help

In most cases, the anxieties you feel as a student will be short-term, but sometimes they can lead to longer-term depression or mental health issues. Struggling with your mental health can have an impact on your studies, and vice versa, so don’t suffer in silence – seeking support early can avoid this becoming a vicious cycle. If you feel you’re getting behind on your work, or start to feel overwhelmed, speak to your tutor as a first step. With some extra support in place, difficulties can often be resolved. The most important thing is that you reach out and ask.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one effective way to manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties. There may be several ways you can access this: some universities offer individual support or access to groups, or your GP might be able to refer you to local primary care services. Alternatively you may be able to access online CBT through ieso – you can check if you’re eligible here.

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