This week I had my final ever University exam, which feels kind of surreal… I’m not quite sure it’s hit me that it’s all over, but given how much my mental health has impacted my experience of the last three years I thought it’d be good to write a bit of an advice post for navigating university life whilst looking after yourself – it’s been harder than I hoped, but wonderful in entirely unexpected ways and hopefully I’ve got some helpful advice to share!
- Don’t pressure yourself to have ‘the best three years of your life’. University might well be a time that you look back on with nostalgia, filled with incredible memories. But three years is a long time and university is full of changes for a lot of people, especially when you’re first finding your feet. Take the pressure off of yourself and don’t feel bad if you’re not constantly having an amazing time/making memories/finding your ‘friends for life’. It’s normal to feel isolated, anxious and down at times – you’re not failing. And you’re much more likely to find yourself genuinely contented if you don’t expect your experience to be amazing 24/7.
- Remember that there’s a billion different ways to experience University life. Particularly when you’re scrolling through endless photos of huge groups of people heading out clubbing, it can be easy to wonder if you’re doing university ‘right’. Are you going out enough? Making enough friends? Trying enough new things? But it’s important to remember that your own happiness and enjoyment comes before any preconceived expectations of how you should be spending your time. Push yourself and try things you might not initially think you’d be too keen on, but don’t stamp down your personality and interests in order to have a specific type of university experience.
- Make sure you’re aware of what resources are on offer to you, if you need them. Whether you’ve experienced problems with your mental health before or not, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what help is available should you end up needing it. Have a quick search for your University’s counselling services and see if there’s other resources in your area to help look after your mental health – creative therapies, mindfulness events etc. If you’re Manchester based, I’ve provided a lil list of some great resources at the bottom of this post. But this doesn’t just apply to directly mental health related services – find out what financial help/bursaries/loans your University offers; these things can be really useful, particularly if your mental health impacts your ability to work alongside your degree.
- Try to open up and avoid isolating yourself. Whether it’s giving a friend from home a quick text, admitting you’re having a bit of a ‘down’ day to someone off of your course or forcing yourself to spend a little longer than you would usually socialising in a communal kitchen, try to make sure you don’t go from ‘making time for yourself’ to just isolating yourself – anxieties and emotions are often intensified after a few days avoiding the world in your room. And besides, those around you might appreciate your honesty if they too aren’t feeling great.
- Find your happy places. This might take a little bit of time, but try and get out and explore your new city/campus. Stumbling across places where you can retreat for a little bit of quiet and calm can be so important when you’re in a University bubble. It might be a green bit of your campus, a coffee shop you really like or a bit of countryside you can get to easily enough – just find somewhere where you can be with your thoughts and relax.
- Try and get outside of your University bubble. Especially if you’re feeling anxious or trapped, getting out of the bubble of university life can be really important. If going home is both an option and a safe space, try and schedule some trips back. Visit your friends at other universities. Or if you’re unable to do so, for whatever reason, try and find a way to engage with the local community outside of campus – find a volunteering opportunity or an event that you think you’d be interested in and go for it!
- Be kind to yourself and accept your limitations. University can be full of expectations to excel academically, get work experience/internships and socialise. But if you’re struggling to do any/all of this, your worth does not change. It’s important to accept your limitations (which will fluctuate over time), be kind to yourself and focus on what you need, rather than what you feel you should be doing/what other people expect of you. If you’re not well enough to manage a part time job alongside your studies or you don’t have a huge group of friends that you see 24/7, don’t see this as a reflection on your capabilities/character. Be patient with yourself, ask for help when you need it and celebrate your victories, whether they’re big or small.
Manchester based resources:
42nd Street & The Horsfall – 42nd Street offer individual and group therapy as well as groups such as MORR which are great to get involved with. The Horsfall is a gallery/creative space that’s linked with 42nd st and offers lots of wonderful creative stuff – from an art/drawing session every Thursday to exhibitions.
Open Mind Manchester – Open Mind are a University based society, with groups operating at both the University of Manchester and MMU. They share helpful resources and run an excellent range of events, from mental-health themed spoken word nights to ‘PositiviTEA’ and ‘Share your Story’.
WeAreAssif – Check out their website/instagram for lots of interesting blog posts/articles and events in Mcr – from a book club to walks in Heaton Park.