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Whether you’re a fresher, or you’re going back to campus for the first time in ages, the excitement of being at university might well be mixed with feelings of anxiety or low mood. We’re still in a pandemic, after all, so ‘the new normal’ of university life still won’t be quite the same experience as it was before Covid. And different institutions will do things differently, based on how they’ve decided to manage the risks. It’s very much a case of going into the unknown.
If this is making you feel anxious, that’s hardly surprising. You might be worried about the risks that will come with meeting and living with new people, taking public transport, or getting the hang of a new area and routine for instance.
Others might be feeling down about not getting the ‘full’ experience they hoped for. University is supposed to be a time of freedom, and it’s normal to feel sad or frustrated that there might still be constraints on that.
Here’s what you can do to help yourself make the most of the university experience – even if there are still restrictions in place, or you’re feeling a bit nervous. You might also want to check out our blog on ways to stay OK.
Think about what the current situation is in terms of the pandemic, both at home and in the place you’re going to, and how this is impacting you emotionally. Are you feeling low, angry, worried? What is it about the situation that’s making you feel like that? What are your specific concerns? Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel.
Reach out to your friends. Exploring how they’re feeling, and how they plan to handle any challenges that come up when they’re at university, could be reassuring.
Do some investigation upfront to find out what things will be like where you’re headed. The university website will probably have information and guidance about what rules are in place, for example when you’ll need to wear masks, spacing in lectures, and how often communal areas are cleaned. If there’s any doubt, do ask.
If you’re worried that your university experience will be disappointing, finding out in advance what restrictions or limitations there actually are might ease your mind. On the other hand, if you’re feeling anxious, preparing yourself should help you feel more confident and in control.
Once you’ve established the facts, decide the kinds and level of risk you’re happy with – on both the academic and social sides of life. This might well change as time goes on and you gain in confidence.
Remember, you have the right to choose what you do and don’t do. If you’re not ready for live music or a nightclub, that’s absolutely fine. You might need to be assertive if your friends are trying to persuade you to do something you’re uneasy about.
Of course, when there’s alcohol involved inhibitions and resolutions can sometimes go out of the window! Being mindful of that could save you a lot of anxiety the morning after.
There will be things you have no control over, but if you do have the power to change something taking action might help you feel more relaxed. If there’s an activity you really want or need to do, for example, come up with a checklist of precautions or behaviours that will help you feel safe. If you’re really nervous about going out, you could identify a few places you feel really comfortable – a particular pub or coffee shop maybe – and stick to those.
Everyone will have experienced the pandemic differently, depending on things like where they come from, whether they caught the virus, or whether they took a gap year. You’re likely to find yourself among people with a variety of needs, as well as conflicting opinions. This could create tension, especially if you’re living together!
It will help if you keep the lines of communication open, sharing how you feel and aiming to understand those who might be in a very different place to you. Organise regular house meetings to check in with each other, and be open and honest. Setting house rules that you all agree on will help to avoid potential issues with mismatched expectations about things like cleaning, or having friends to stay over.
If you find yourself worrying a lot, or think you might be behaving in a way that’s more extreme than necessary – for instance, cleaning excessively or staying in all the time – weigh up the risks with a realistic head on. Could your fears be irrational, or out of perspective? Are the dangers real, or are you avoiding activities and places unnecessarily?
Doing more than the rules or guidelines require, or worrying all the time, can sometimes be a sign that anxiety has become a problem. If this is the case, it could be worth exploring online CBT – there’s no wait, and you don’t need to travel anywhere to get it. Find out whether treatment is available where you are.
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