By Vicki Snow, Counsellor and Psychotherapist at The Eaves
For many young people, going to university is the first experience of living away from home. This might feel like a much-needed opportunity for freedom and the chance to ‘reinvent’ yourself. Alternatively, it might feel very scary leaving behind your familiar life and launching into a strange new world you feel wholly unprepared for. And you may, of course, feel a bit of both.
This might be the first time you’ve had to think about cooking, cleaning, finances, managing your coursework without a regular school timetable to follow, and teachers and parents helping you keep on top of things or support you when you need it. Add to that making new friends, living with people you don’t know, developing your own sense of identity and finding your way round a new town, city or country and it can start to feel a bit overwhelming. And on top of everything, there can often be an expectation that no matter what, this should be the best time of your life.
Common feelings and when to seek help
If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness, anxiety, persistent low mood or a sense of being overwhelmed, rest assured that you won’t be the only one. We are all different and everyone’s circumstances are unique, but some, or all, of these feelings can occur to a greater or lesser degree in our early adult lives. Most students learn how to manage these difficult feelings, but some may find it hard to cope with and this can sometimes lead to self-harm, disordered eating, substance misuse or suicidal thoughts. It is, therefore, important to get support if you need it.
Talking to a parent, friend or a member of staff about how you are feeling can be the first step to helping you feel better. Universities will have student wellbeing services which are there to give you emotional support and will usually offer free counselling sessions for students. They might also be able to provide support around your studies, neurodiversity issues, accommodation problems, medical issues or financial difficulties that could be making life hard for you.
How counselling can help
Sometimes it’s hard to speak to a friend or family member – you might feel embarrassed or that you don’t want to worry them. Counselling can be a useful way to speak confidentially about what’s going on and help you make sense of your thoughts and feelings so that you can manage them better. You might explore ways to do this with your therapist or begin to work out what’s important to you and how to achieve what you want in life. There might be a waiting list for your university’s counselling service so you may want to contact your GP or a private counselling service to get help sooner.
What you can do to help manage stress
1. Talk to someone
Sharing a problem with a friend or counsellor can help you gain a different perspective. Being alone with our difficulties can leave us feeling isolated and helpless.
This releases endorphins and makes us feel good. It doesn’t have to be anything gruelling, just a brisk walk or a bike ride can be beneficial to our mood.
To stop ruminating thoughts or catastrophising, use mindfulness to avoid getting caught up in unhelpful thought processes and feel more relaxed. Try the Mindfulness app, Calm or Headspace for guidance.
4. Time management
Try and make a schedule to help keep on top or your studies. If you struggle to concentrate, then break things down into manageable sections with plenty of breaks. Experiment with what works, by building lengths of study periods up slowly so that you gain a sense of achievement.
5. Sleep, eat, hydrate
Being our best selves when we are tired, hungry or dehydrated is a lot to ask. Pay attention to what you need. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthily and regularly? Are you drinking enough water? If the answer to any of these is no, think about what you can do to change this.
Further support is available at The Eaves, where we have over 100 therapists that can help with long term issues. Our professionals see individuals of all ages, families, couples and young people 12 hours a day, Monday to Saturday between 9am and 9pm. Please call 01483 917000 to speak to a member of the referrals team. You can also send us an enquiry via our website. Click here to find out more.