How to spread your wings, beat social anxiety and forge wonderful, meaningful friendships at university | true

How to spread your wings, beat social anxiety and forge wonderful, meaningful friendships at university

Posted 18 Sep 2023
By Dr Dominique Thompson

As a new survey from true student reveals 81% of young people feel anxious about making friends, award-winning GP and true student’s mental health consultant Dr Dominique Thompson offers tips for freshers and their parents on adapting to the big social transition of university life this September…

Starting university life is a time of massive transition. It can feel like a time of rupture from family and existing friend networks, when the unknown and unfamiliar can seem overwhelming. Many young people will have relied on the same friendship group throughout school and may have never been away from home for a substantial period before. Starting university is therefore a dramatic ‘double whammy’ of distance from both long-standing peer groups and close family members. What’s more, leaving a familiar location, adapting to new routines and encountering a new world of social and study opportunities is daunting. However, the start of university can also be a time of profound self-discovery, growth and new self—confidence. It’s a bold step into adult life and a time to develop independence, with the exhilarating and exciting wealth of opportunities that brings. 

5 ways freshers can beat the fear and create meaningful new social bonds

  • Don’t rush- Take one step at a time… 

Many young people can feel overwhelmed during the early stages of university by the sheer volume of new experiences on offer. You don’t have to rush into everything immediately, but can take small steps, deep breaths and give yourself plenty of time to absorb and process new experiences. It can be tempting to rush at every new friend, new activity or opportunity but slowing down and remembering to take your time can help soothe the overwhelm and set priorities that will serve you best in the long-term.

  • Be open about feeling shy…

Making new friends and connections is hard for everyone. Remembering you are all in the same boat as others and talking openly about feeling nervous or shy can help build common threads of shared experience with others who feel the same too. It’s brave to open up about how you feel – often the most confident people feel very unsure underneath so being open can be a great way to bond…

  • Create a social routine….

A good way to settle into a dramatically new setting is to bring with you a routine that has always served you well in the past or to create a new one that meets your new needs. Setting regular times to eat, sleep, study, join regular social clubs or activities you have always loved,  chat to old friends and family may help keep grounded. Bringing some continuity from home, in the form of a daily routine can help smooth the transition. 

  • You might not find your tribe overnight

University is a place where many people meet life-long friends, future partners and people with a similar passion or life outlook but these people might not be living in the room next door! Finding like-minded people can take time and keeping a sense of autonomy and identity above the pressure to join in and fit in is important. Always ask yourself if a new friendship or social group makes you feel good, supported and understood and if not, save your energy for the wonderful stream of new people you will meet over the coming years. 

  • Make self-care your best friend 

Of course you’ll have plenty of new best friends soon enough too, but the truest friend you ever have should always be you! Learn what makes you feel good, from self-care activities such as cooking healthy food, exercising, setting healthy boundaries with others and making your bedroom feel comforting and soothing. Make time for the music you love, the books, games or hobbies that make you feel ‘yourself’. 

3 ways parents can adapt to their child leaving for university…

The start of university can also be a time of dramatic transition for parents and guardians, as they contemplate a new lifestyle with their child or children no longer living with them. 

It’s therefore also a time of dramatic upheaval for parents and guardians, whose lives and routines may have centred around their offspring. Here are 3 ways parents can regain a sense of autonomy within their own lives while maintaining the supportive contact with their child.

  • Foster independence... both for you and your child. The strongest bonds can thrive and even grow stronger when both parties embrace the opportunities of independence. Invest in your own self-care, friendships, hobbies and other relationships and encourage your child to do the same 
  • Invite quality chat time... now you are apart for more time, make sure the time you have together or the phone chats you have are based on ‘active listening’. Invite your child to talk about how they feel and take time to really listen and be open about your own feelings too and explore areas of feeling you can both relate to. Inviting ‘quality time’ to talk, laugh and catch up will give you both a boost and help feel better about the separation. 
  • ‘Check in’ without ‘checking up’ on your child... tensions can commonly arise when parents become very anxious about their absent child’s welfare, new lifestyle influences or choices, leading them to persistently ‘check up’ that a child is okay or making the right decisions. It’s easy to let anxiety take over and assume that no news means something terrible might be happening. Aim to strike a balance of care and support that doesn’t centre upon control or the need for constant reassurance. Creating a trusting bond, where your child can confide in you will encourage them to share any real concerns with you and allow you to help in the best way.
Posted 18 Sep 2023
By Dr Dominique Thompson