Starting University is probably one of the most stressful periods someone can go through. Some call it a halfway house between living at home and living entirely independently as an adult, but I have to say I think moving further away than you ever considered, sometimes even across country, to juggle both study and a social life whilst trying to maintain some level of calm is quite the feat.
I moved from Essex to Wales, which is probably about as close as I could get whilst moving to a different country! I didn’t choose the university for that reason, but it was important to really consider the distance, time it would take to get home, and independence it would give me compared to going to a University nearer home.
I have anxiety, which tends to particularly come alongside social situation. Social anxiety disorder has a range of symptoms, but included and often reported are panic attacks and palpitations, dreading everyday social activities and events, worrying about what others think, avoiding attention or anything that may cause criticism, and having low self-esteem. While this is a very generalised idea of symptoms that I’m familiar with, it’s worth having a look for yourself on the NHS website to see others alongside symptoms for other anxiety disorders.
Starting university leaves you with a variety of responsibilities that require you to manage your anxiety to a degree at which you can hopefully successfully complete them. Below are a list of just a few, and some tiny bits of advice. This is from experience, and there are plenty that I’m yet to achieve myself! Progress is progress, however small.
- Moving away from home.
Moving away from home is the first big step most will take as they move from college or a gap year into University. You’ll usually move from the comfort of your parents’ home into halls of residence or a privately rented house/flat. With social anxiety, one of the main drawbacks may be the idea of sharing halls with new people. Particularly if you have to share a bathroom (or is that just something I’d worry about?!). If I thought suggesting throwing yourself into the deep end would help, I’d say it, but I think with this it’s worth taking baby steps. Move in early, when it’s quiet. Introduce yourself gradually to the people in your halls, and get a sense of what they’re like and who you think you’ll get on with. Tell them you’re a bit nervous! Everyone will be to different degrees, but acknowledging that will help. And only do as much as you’re comfortable with. There’s a time to step outside of your comfort zone, and a time to make sure you’re comfortable! Do the latter first.
- Nights out.
The dreaded nights out. Students on a bender are more infamous than students at lectures, and for good reason. A large proportion of the student population at universities love a good night out, and will somehow make it to a 9am the next morning. If you’re not comfortable with going out, then don’t. Explain why you’d rather stay at home if you feel the need to, but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to! A night out is a great way to socialize and meet new people, and especially to bond with flatmates: everyone’s friendlier when they’re drunk! But it’s not worth a panic attack or getting anxious about. Some students go out every other night, some once a week, some never. Find what you’re most comfortable with. (And if you hate the idea of a club, maybe start at a pub instead! And avoid freshers parties because they’re guaranteed to be chock-full of excited eighteen year-olds). Something else worth doing is getting involved in pre drinks (every students’ necessity to avoid spending too much on a night out) so you don’t miss out on everything, and you get to relax with a smaller group. After a few drinks, you might even change your mind about going out for a couple of hours.
- Making friends.
Making friends is never easy when you’re handling social anxiety too. Some students will make huge groups of friends that they maintain throughout the years, but you might find it easier to stay within a small, select group of friends. This isn’t a bad thing, and can even be more rewarding as long as you deal with all of your friendships healthily.
More often than not, the majority of your closest friends may come from your halls of residence. Any boundaries you may have with friends you’ve known for years are eradicated after a few weeks at university: looking after people who are violently sick after a night out, seeing everyone in various levels of undress in the morning and dealing with people’s odd eating habits: you can hide very little when you live with someone for a large part of the year.
This may come a little more naturally than you expect, but just try to have small, frequent conversations as you build up confidence with those around you. Go with flatmates to events that you feel comfortable going to, and spend meal times and other hours in the shared spaces. Things take time, but you’ll get there.
- Dealing with lectures/seminars
You may find lectures relatively easy: you can sit with people you know if you do know anyone, and if not you can sit on your own and not have to worry about surprise socialising: for the most part, lectures aren’t very interactive, though this obviously depends on the subject.
I don’t think I’ve met anyone that really likes seminars. These are usually in smaller groups and rely on the students interacting with each other and the tutor: which can cause some problems if you have social anxiety.
More often than not, the seminar will revolve around something you have been told to prepare – so the first step in eradicating any unnecessary anxiety is being overly prepared for anything that may come up. Make sure you answer all questions, read through the material, and, if you feel like it, talk to other students. Everyone’s in the same position and over time you may find that you make some friends. Don’t be afraid to tell the seminar leader about any diagnosed anxiety of mental health problems you have: while you will still be expected to attend, it’ll make them aware of the situation – and they’ll understand if there’s any situation or anxiety that needs to be dealt with.
Most universities now have really impressive mental health support, including counselling and wellness programmes. It’s worth having a look into!
- Taking on adult responsibilities – shopping, budgeting, etc.
This one is probably one of the easier things to deal with. It may be more difficult if you have GAD, but if you find busy shops triggering you can often find a time that is far less busy. (For example, weekday evenings at supermarkets are often really quiet). Going with someone else that you’ve started to make friends with can also be a great way for you to develop relationships. There’s nothing like bonding as you scoff at the price of fruit and vegetables!
Budgeting is another situation that can really trigger general anxiety (and social anxiety as you start to worry about money every time you go out). Universities often offer help for this, and it’s important to remember that most students are in the same position. There are apps and websites that also help with budgeting and saving, and are really worth taking a look at.
Suddenly having to take on adult responsibilities after living at home can be really stressful, and dealing with all of that alongside anxiety can often get overwhelming. That’s why, if you find things too much to handle, and if you haven’t already, it’s worth going to your GP to see what options you have in regards to treatment. Make sure you register with a practice near your university!
Hope this helps,