Starting university is an incredible time for us all! We’ve gotten through our GCSE’s, survived our A-Levels and have prepared to embark on the journey into the working world. It’s safe to say that we all deserve a round of applause, especially to those starting and/or graduating in the midst of a global pandemic! There is so much positivity to be found here at the University of Surrey, however, it is also important to talk about and normalise occasional feelings of anxiety and sadness. We’re all human after all! It’s a difficult time for students across the globe and now, more than ever, is the time to truly connect with each other. In this article, I’m going to be talking about my own personal experience dealing with negative feelings as a first year, in hopes that you’ll be able to relate and perhaps rationalise your own situation.
First of all, it’s important to understand why so many students experience negative phases throughout their time at university. Sometimes we can isolate our circumstances and blame ourselves for feeling the way we do, one way to combat this is to become aware, not only of the fact that many students are in the same boat, but also that there are perfectly normal reasons as to why we may be feeling a type of way. For example, loneliness is a feeling that I definitely felt whilst in first year. Despite having four other flatmates, an abundance of new friends and even my best friend from back home, I couldn’t help feel as though nobody was there to listen to my problems. In retrospect, I’ve come to understand that this feeling was a direct result from the drastic change of surroundings, coming from Gibraltar to Guildford.
We, as humans, find comfort in the familiar; we thrive in having a secure perspective of where we are. As an EU student, I dived head first into Fresher’s week, immersing myself in all that Guildford had to offer, from the vibrant nightlife to the vastness of the town. However, when I settled in, this overwhelming experience brought about intrusive thoughts. I couldn’t help but think about my future in such a big country, would I really able to achieve my set goals? Will my friends always be there for me, despite their busy schedules? I saw myself as a Fresher, not only at university, but as an adult overall. Having gone through first year, I’ve found comfort in reflection, looking back at how I felt and focusing on where I currently am.
I’ve come to the realisation that we must be kinder to ourselves, acknowledge certain anxieties and then strive to move away from them. It’s much easier said than done, but there are a number of things that helped me, which could possibly help you!
Eat a Healthy Diet
This might come as no surprise, but eating healthy meals is a great source of serotonin. There is a science behind it but I won’t bore you with the specifics, instead, I’m going to be listing a number of foods that you might want to try and incorporate more of in your diet! The first couple of suggestions are poultry and fish, often meals that contain a high amount of protein. This is due to the amino acids that contribute to the production of serotonin and overall mood, not to mention the preparation that goes into home-made meals which often times leads to a wholesome feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. Since I’m more inclined to the vegetarian diet, I think it’s important to mention that soy products such as tofu and milk are also high in protein, thus, giving the same effect. Often times, there is a stigma that a veggie lifestyle doesn’t give you enough nutrients, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. You can find a balanced diet through many ways, but it’s important to not discredit or disregard the affect that it can have on your mentality. I found that constantly eating ready meals would lead to further negative emotions, almost as if my previous ones had been amplified. However, when I started to do more home cooking, I fell in love with the preparation, the smells and aromas and, ultimately, the delicious flavours that I had created. Additionally, kitchen time is a great opportunity to socialise with your friends and check up on them, perhaps ask them how their day has been, or plan your next coffee catch-up. As you can see, food really does bring us closer!
Journal and Plan
Moving on, I found that having an effective, yet realistic, schedule has been a saving grace when it comes to my mental wellbeing. Throughout my first year I wasn’t entirely organised, often forgetting to attend a meeting or social. It is so easy to become overwhelmed as a university student, deadlines are approaching and responsibilities are constantly increasing but having a little diary allows you to tame your tasks and view them in an organised way. I use my journal to write down every assignment, society meeting and any extra-curriculum activity! This way, I always know what my days are going to look like and, more importantly, I’m more motivated to take on bigger responsibilities and challenges. It feels good to be ahead of the game! Although keeping busy is a fantastic way to calm certain anxieties, make sure to give yourself plenty of personal time, a moment to relax and do whatever makes you happy!
If you are feeling down on your luck or demoralised, know that it is completely okay. I might be starting to sound like a broken record at this point but I can’t stress this enough, the normalisation of negative phases can be so beneficial in the long run. Be aware that each and every one of us form part of a collective experience, and by talking to each other, we are able to reduce the intensity of our anxieties.
The Power of Dialogue
On this note, my next point is about the power of dialogue. There are moments that I simply want to talk to a friend, to share how I’m feeling and find out if they have felt the same, and how they have overcome certain scenarios. This is important because there are so many forms of stress relief, and you might be one conversation away from finding out what really works for you. For example, I was introduced to yoga by a close friend, and for a time, we would go to the quiet centre and participate in regular classes. This allowed me to forget about my weekly worries and connect with myself for a while. Now, it is something that I can look back on and appreciate, I did myself a favour by talking to a friend and joining in on a calming activity.
Honestly, I could go on and on about issues of anxiety, but I’ll leave the rest for you to contemplate. I’d like to conclude by shedding light on the brilliant facilities that are available to you on campus. If you feel entirely overwhelmed, the Centre for Wellbeing is open five days a week. All you need to do is phone the office (+44 1483 689498) and a team member will guide you and inform you of the various ways in which they can help you out. Additionally, your personal tutor is a great point of contact for any personal issues, as they will be able to advise and regularly check up on you. Remember, be kind to yourself as much as you are to others, try to rationalise your situation and, if needed, it is perfectly fine to reach out for help.