Starting a new stage in life is stressful at the best of times, so when you have a mental illness it can easily become a very intense struggle. As a first year with anxiety and depression I will be writing about my experience starting university, and some tips that I have used to get through it.
My first day started like many others, moving into my accommodation. I was fuelled with both excitement and anxiety, who was I going to be living with? Will my room be nice? But more importantly, have I forgotten something?
I made sure to bring things that would help me feel comfortable, mainly blankets and decorations, so settling into my room wasn’t a big struggle for me – it was making friends. Anxiety can add a whole new level to meeting new people, and after a week of not making any progress I became a little bit of a hermit. I ended up feeling so anxious that I couldn’t even enter the kitchen if I thought someone was in there. Eventually I had to challenge myself to go in (mainly because I ran out of snacks in my room) and a lot of the time, I had been worrying about nothing. Either that or someone had just left the light on and no one was actually in there.
I think when you move into halls you expect to have a family complex with the people you live with, but it doesn’t always work out. It’s easy to beat yourself up if you don’t click with your room mates, I struggled a lot with that but sometimes it just happens and it’s not your fault.
Keeping my room clean and tidy has also been as issue, especially when my depression has been at it’s worse. My dad always said that your room represents your mind so when it’s not tidy it can become hard to function, and I have to say I think he’s right.
The next step was to start my classes – at first, I was incredibly eager to get to my lectures and seminars and I was enjoying them. However, I quickly learnt that getting stuck in a rut is something I struggle with. Once I missed my first lecture, I managed to get stuck in a cycle, where I convinced myself that going in wasn’t worth it if I had missed the information in the last lecture. Eventually, leaving my room became a challenge in its self and I realised I needed to get myself out of it, that’s when I went home for a week.
You may be thinking “that doesn’t sound like going in” and it really wasn’t, but it was the break I needed to sort myself out. I had convinced myself that as long as I got my assessments done on time that I would be okay, but after doing pretty badly on an essay I realised I need to be a bit harsher on myself when it comes to attendance.
Something that has helped me along the way is talking to and going out with friends that I already had pre-university and honestly socialising with people I know and love has really helped me to get through some of the hardest times. I think there is a pressure when you start university to immediately make new lifelong friends, but I realised that it doesn’t always work like that and sometimes it takes a little bit longer.
Now that you know a little bit about my experience, I’m going to give you some of the tips that I have both followed and am starting to follow, in order to improve your experience at university.
I think mental illness can be quite a taboo topic and it’s the same for the treatments that are available to you. I am personally taking Sertraline and CBD for my depression and anxiety and it’s something that I was quite scared to do before I started. It’s important to speak to a doctor about your symptoms, who will then be able offer you different treatments, such as antidepressants or counselling. If you are unable to get a counsellor through the NHS and you can’t afford a private one, the university itself provides a counselling service that may benefit you.
2. Celebrate small victories
Sometimes small tasks can become a struggle so it’s important that you celebrate small victories. It’s important to acknowledge that you achieved something, whether it be going out with some friends or simply getting out of bed. This is something that can be hard to do if you’re feeling down but can be so beneficial if you get into the habit.
3. Don’t beat yourself up over bad days
It is inevitable that sometimes you might get so overwhelmed that you just have to cuddle up in a blanket with a hot chocolate in hand and watch Netflix all day. Other days you might just sleep the entire day away because being asleep is a better alternative to being awake (I know I have). Whatever having a bad day means to you it is so important that you don’t beat yourself up over having them as that can easily bring on another one. Although it’s easier said than done, you have to move on to the next day thinking “what can I do better today” rather than “I can’t believe how I spent yesterday”.
4. Challenge yourself
Another way to make sure you keep active is to challenge yourself to take part in different sessions and events provided by the university and Student’s Union. Not only does it get you out of the house, but it also gives you the opportunity to meet new people and try new things, something that everyone can benefit from. If you struggle to find these activities then keeping an eye on your emails might be useful, I’ve found that the university sends out emails regarding some activities that they’ve organised. It can be a lot easier to sign up for something via email because it requires zero effort and if your place is confirmed it can make you feel like you have to go, no backing out last minute. If going to an organised event seems to be intimidating, simply challenging yourself to go to a café or to go on a walk can be just as successful in getting you out of a rut.
5. Talk to family and friends
It’s easy to feel alone when you first start something new, especially at university, which is why it’s so important to keep in touch with your family and friends. Talking to someone who you’re familiar with can help to reduce that lonely feeling and remind you that you do have people back at home who love and care about you. It’s no lie that talking about your feelings can help you but if talking about your mental illness is something that makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to. Simply talking to someone about anything can help as sometimes it’s just nice to get out of your own head and talk to somebody else.
6. Make a list of things that make you happy
Something that I have been trying out is writing out a list of things that I have to be happy about including things such as: my family, my boyfriend and the fact that dogs exist. It can be anything that means something to you. When we get into such a dark place it’s easy to forget about the things that do make you happy in life so having a list that reminds you of these things can sometimes help.
7. Get Organised
My final tip to you is to organise your university life be it through a calendar, to do list or a bullet journal. It’s so much easier to get overwhelmed when you live on a day by day basis, so it helps to be able to see what you need to do and where you need to be throughout the week. It will make sure that you remember everything and get things done ahead of time, as we all know completing work at the last minute is a very stressful experience. Organisation can really help you stay on top of your work and your university life.
Overall, I understand that it can be a struggle to be at university while also dealing with a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean it should hinder your experience. It’s so important to take care of yourself and I hope that these tips might be able to help you do that.