Settling into University - World Mental Health Day
Reducing the stress of settling in at uni
A blog by Dr Dominique Thompson
World Mental Health Day takes place every year on the 10th
October, and this year’s theme
is ‘mental health in an unequal world.'
It seems a great opportunity to think about how you can take care of your own mental health as you head off to university this autumn, where things can sometimes feel a little unequal. It’s not common for new students to feel like everyone else seems more together than they are, but I’ll tell you a secret - it’s all an illusion!
I spent almost 20 years looking after students as their university GP, and it’s completely normal to feel a little lost and out of your depth when you first arrive and settle in.
So I want to use this blog to share with you some top hacks I have observed over those years, for settling in more easily and looking after yourself when you arrive at university or move into new accommodation (and there are even a couple of tips to help your parents and carers too, who can also feel a bit anxious!).
You will find more advice and tips in my series of 1-minute videos called #DomIn60Seconds too!
Most new students feel a little homesick (some a lot) as they adapt to a new environment (maybe even a new culture) because they very naturally miss the familiarity and people back home. To balance this it can help to make your new room feel welcoming and relaxing by bringing things like your favourite photos, mugs, books, and even bed linen with you. But it’s also a good opportunity to re-define yourself, so you might like to think about adding some new items (framed quotes or prints, a rug, an inspirational mood board) to your room.
You might assume (after endless lockdowns) that being at uni would mean never feeling lonely, and some people do quickly find a good balance of meeting people and peaceful alone time, but for many it is common to feel alone even in a crowd. This is normal.
Building human connections that have meaning and make you feel good takes time, and the good news is that in a university there are literally thousands of people, so you will find your ‘tribe’, but it might take a while. If you want to meet new people, try to be generally friendly, be open to trying new things (like volunteering, learning a language or outdoor activities) and go to social events hosted by the university or accommodation teams. You never know where you might meet ‘your people’!
Whether you arrive straight from school, take a gap year, or return to uni as a mature student, the workload can be significant. ‘Learning to learn’ in a new or more independent way, finding a work/ play/ rest balance and planning work ahead of deadlines can all feel a little overwhelming. You are not alone!
Talk to your tutors, to other students (especially those in the years ahead of you) and academic support staff to get a sense of expectations and key ‘insider tips’ on when the crunch points might be, so that you are well prepared, less stressed and can be productive about tasks and deadlines. Take up offers of ‘study skills’ sessions where you can.
Confidence and self-esteem building
Even the most confident person can find moving to a new environment, city, or country a bit challenging, and it can be helpful to know a couple of ways to boost your self-esteem. You can be who you want to be at university, it’s often an opportunity to re-invent yourself a little, or focus more on the things that really matter to you, from sport or politics to charity work.
Try making yourself feel good by doing something every day that feels purposeful and positive (even just a small thing like making lunch for a new friend or promoting your fave charity on social media).
And try new things, even if you aren’t going to be great at them first time. Doing something new and overcoming a challenge is a guaranteed way to bump up your confidence. Always wanted to try martial arts? Keen to cook, but never had the opportunity? Want to make films or create art and music? University is the perfect place to give them a go!
Advice for Parents
Being a parent of a new student can also be stressful, so here are some ways to be extra supportive as you all embark on a new adventure.
· Stay in contact regularly but know that it’s ok not to speak every day, though a low-key WhatsApp group for funny pictures, gifs or chat can keep the connection at a reassuring level day to day.
· Sending your student a care package halfway through term (full of favourite snacks, small gifts, and a magazine) can be really uplifting and fun, and your student will feel very loved.
· Plan when you can all meet up, but let the student guide the timings - and if the visit is to the university location, then allow the student to also be the host and plan the activities. It is important for their confidence and to help them feel settled that they should lead on this.
· For more fab Parent Support check out the True Student website Parent Zone
Moving to uni and into new accommodation can be tricky but it can also be exciting, fun and the start of the next stage of your life, so remember that you are not alone, you can always ask other people for help, and you can most definitely do this!
Have fun and be adventurous!
For more advice or support on how to go to uni, or cope with anxiety, depression or unhealthy behaviours as a student, check out Dominique’s Student Wellbeing Series of books