University comes with a lot of baggage. Not literally (though you’ll become intimately acquainted with your suitcase over the years), but mentally. It has countless connotations that bring forth countless expectations, and they can be overwhelming.
Trying to reckon with all these new experiences can be tough – high rates of psychological distress were reported among students before the pandemic, and these rates have only increased since. This needs to be acknowledged.
Expectation VS. Reality
Perhaps the most accurate university truism is that it’s the best place to figure yourself out. You have the freedom to experiment with your identity and grow towards your true self. It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying, and it’s vital to not overthink it.
Spending too much time reconciling how you think things should be vs. how things really are is an anxiety trap. There’s no ‘right’ way to be a student (except that one housemate who cuts pizza with scissors – he’s doing it wrong). It’s tempting to compare yourself to others when you’re still figuring out your own path, but you can never become someone else.
It sounds cliché, but you really can only be you. If you’re ever feeling lonely or inferior, remember the wise words of Simon Amstell: “Once you realise that either you’re also beautiful, or everyone else is also an anxious lunatic, then those thoughts don’t pop up as much.” So live in the moment! Because living in your head worrying about the moment never leads to joy.
Workload is a significant stressor in the life of a student. There isn’t a student alive who hasn’t stressed over at least one assignment. But for many, it’s more intense than a brief spell of anxiety. Sometimes it escalates into a chronic problem.
This happens partially because uni work is way more dense & academic than what came before. 87% of uni students experience stress and 77% experience anxiety. 65% stated their distress was caused by deadlines. Clearly, the work is tough on almost everyone. If you’re struggling, you’re actively in the majority.
You can always ask for help – with tutoring, assignment extensions, a break from your studies – but what if you don’t know the cause? When university throws a million new experiences at you, anxiety can feel like a nebulous pit of overlapping confusion. But there are trained professionals who can help you parse those feelings.
Every university has mental health services designed to help students who require them. They are typically free and wildly more accessible than those same services outside university. Mental healthcare is unfortunately underfunded in the UK, so please take advantage of the services at your disposal while you have them. It might be a scary step, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.
University is largely a space to make mistakes so you don’t make them in the real world. This applies to mental health – it’s completely fine to be overwhelmed by such a significant change in circumstances. Life tends to have a few of those, so it’s best to get on top of it while you’re here.
Ultimately, mental health is complicated, and what works for some may not work for others. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find a solution straight away. Learning to cope with anxiety is a constant experiment and a pragmatic attitude is vital. But all progress, big or small, starts with a first step.