Let’s be honest, the first few weeks of each academic year are more than unnerving. Most of us will be moving into new, unfamiliar accommodation, will have to socialise with people we have never met before or haven’t seen in months, whilst also having to get used to the idea of focusing on our degrees when our last experience of education were exams – and who would really want to walk back into all of that? When comparing the more relaxing and caring environment of home against Uni, you really shouldn’t blame yourself if you’re suffering from a case of post-summer blues. Here’s some advice that may lift your mood and help you settle in.
Make a place a bit like home
Okay, University accommodation isn’t home, but considering the amount of time you will be spending in it, you really should become acquainted and attached. It has been shown on a neurological level that we connect our sense of self with the things we consider to be ours, so one of the ways of combatting the alien-ess of your Uni accommodation is to fill it up with things that belong to you. (As a side note, picking your socks off the floor will also help with your self-image…)
Some people fill up every available space (pin board or otherwise) with pictures of family and friends, whereas I personally like to put up all the gift-shop postcards I’ve collected over the years. This allows me to flick through past memories that are related to places and events instead of people I may be missing – but it’s important to do whatever works for you. Just remember that if you haven’t got these things, a quick pop to the poster and plant markets that are held on campus around Freshers’ week will leave you with an assortment of objects to personalise your room. Click here as well if you are looking for more creative ideas.
Try new things
The best thing about the new academic year is that it’s so much easier to try new things. There are plenty of University societies to join in order to learn engaging skills and expand your social circle. Plus, you’re also given the opportunity to address the habits and homogenous routine you fell into last year. Mix up your life! Go site seeing around Exeter (have you been to the tunnels, cathedral, and museum yet?), read a book that’s unrelated to your course, or even just go for a scenic walk or jog around Exeter. The act of trying to do something new is an achievement within itself that can make you feel better.
Prepare food instead of getting fast food
Social and academic demands in the first few weeks of Uni can leave you with very little time to do any actual cooking, resulting in the temptation of Dominos, Firehouse, and the RAM. And although fast food certainly does feel comforting in the short term, their fatty content has been shown to stimulate a low-level inflammatory response that causes anxiety, so we really should find something else to eat.
Nevertheless, fast food seems like the only answer when you’re strapped for time, but this really doesn’t have to be the case if you are prepared. I usually pull up to my accommodation with at least a weeks’ worth of frozen meals cooked by my mum, just so I can have a taste of home throughout first term. Putting my privilege abruptly aside, a big shop and preparation of your favourite dishes before the academic year officially starts will leave you with plenty of time to get involved with Uni life and give you a better mindset to face it.
Do you really need to be hungover right now?
At the start of the year you’re either with old friends or you’re trying to make new ones. The desire to fit in is strong, and most people are reaching for alcohol to overcome their social anxieties. However, you need to step back and consider whether this is what’s best for you.
Hangxiety is a real phenomenon that’s been confirmed on a molecular basis. Characterised by the anxiety and depressed thoughts people have after a night of drinking, you probably already know how it feels to some extent. But for some it causes panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, even when they weren’t having any before – so just imagine its effect on your mental health if it’s already in a bad place.
Now I’m not about to argue that you shouldn’t drink or go out clubbing at all
Now I’m not about to argue that you shouldn’t drink or go out clubbing at all – that would make me a hypocrite. I’m just stating that we should opt out of this supposed ‘staple’ of Uni life from time to time. Even if you don’t seem to express the more severe symptoms of hangovers, you have surely experienced the low spirits, fatigue, and decreased motivation related to them. It’s safe to say that this state isn’t going to help you with most aspects of your life; whereas abstaining from drinking more often will, while also improving your mood.w
Get up for routine!
Maybe Uni doesn’t provide a consistent routine like we were used to at school, but it is a routine nonetheless. Getting up for lectures – yes, even the introductory ones – are a great way of getting you out of your little hovel and interacting with people and experiencing new things.
One of the greatest challenges you will face in reaching this goal is getting out of bed in the morning. We cheat ourselves into thinking that a forced extra 45 minutes in bed whilst continually pressing the snooze button of our alarms is an act of self-care, but all the breakfasts, lectures and tutorials we miss as a result are going to come back with a vengeance.
Set your alarm and keep it as far away from your bed as possible. I usually leave mine next to my door (or outside of it if it isn’t my phone) so I have to become vertical, walk, and wake up a little before I turn it off. Your body has an increase in cortisol levels when you’re initially woken up in order to give you a bit of an energy boost. Take advantage of this!
After your lecture(s) you’re probably going to have to start doing some work, but this doesn’t have to be an unpleasant ordeal. I’ve linked some articles that should help you along your way, so click here, here, and here.
Getting help (Tonal shift)
University is rarely the fanfare that it was made out to be when we were growing up. It can be isolating, it can be restrictive, and it is definitely stressful. All I can say is that if you are struggling on a day to day basis, then you need to get help, whatever your reason. Close friends, family, and personal tutors are just some of the people who can listen and offer aid and advice; but you should also consider going further. A GP at the Student Health Centre referred me to the Universities’ Mental Wellbeing Service when I was struggling with depression, and I still use the coping strategies they taught me to this very day. For me, the long queue for services like cognitive therapy were definitely worth it. And although we usually brush them aside, it’s important to remember that there are other free services available, with people literally waiting at the phone just to listen to you. I’ve left links below of a couple of call centres I found particularly useful, but I’ve also left links that cover themes like mental health in greater detail. Just remember that trying is an achievement within itself, and that you never have to go through anything entirely alone.