The first year of university has always been a stressful time for most students. Gone is the old safety net of hometown familiarity and direct parental supervision, replaced with an environment of excitement and terror in comparable measure. In most cases, first year means taking on the unknown and this often leaves us with unanswered questions. I think most of us will have asked one of the following questions of ourselves at some point in first year: Will I make friends? Will I keep up with my course? Will I figure out what I want to do with my life?
In the crucible that is 2020 though, the intensity and uncertainty has ramped up enormously. In addition to worrying about all of those things, students now must also concern themselves with various other challenges such as enduring isolation, studying remotely, and dealing with the frustrating unknown of what the future may hold. It’s far more than they should have to bear.
If you’ve started your university education during this annus horribilis, you may well be struggling with anxiety. Even if you haven’t started university this year, everything going on right now might feel too much. That’s ok. Recognising how you feel is the first step on the path to feeling better. It’s unlikely to go away entirely, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the effects of anxiety and prevent your worries from holding you back.
Look after your physical health
As much as you may be tempted to sit around eating unhealthy snacks all day now that you’re free to do as you like, it’s one of the worst things you can do. Generally speaking, the worse your diet gets, the worse you’ll feel. Your energy levels will plummet, your self-image may suffer, and you may end up isolating yourself from your friends and social situations.
Instead of letting food become your crutch, you could use lockdown as an opportunity to exercise – to put your newfound free-time to better use. You do not need access to a gym to stay fit and healthy; you can walk, jog, take up yoga, do bodyweight exercises, and come up with fun high-intensity routines you can do from the comfort of your own home. Just 30 minutes of activity each day is enough to keep you fit and healthy – keep an eye out on Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel! You don’t need to reach the peak of physical fitness, it’s more about staying in good condition and using exertion to let your mind take a backseat.
Consult a doctor if it’s affecting your studies
For the most part, you should be able to address your anxiety through your actions (such as the others set out here), but it might reach the point of affecting your studies regardless of what you try. If that’s the case, then you should seriously consider seeing a doctor. It isn’t really about whether your anxiety could plausibly be reduced through introspection alone — it’s about potentially needing to calm your nerves so you can take a test or deliver a presentation. There are treatments available that were developed specifically to address the kind of situational anxiety that can blight a student’s efforts to excel academically. If you notice your nerves are getting more extreme than before, it may be worth seeking medical advice.
Socialise however you can (even virtually)
You might not be able to enjoy the chaotic social events that university students are renowned for, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on socialising and accept the solitude. There are plenty of ways to get some company: you can attend social gatherings with limited numbers, spend time with your housemates, or even try virtual events such as quizzes, team games or escape rooms.
Is it disappointing to need to resort to such things? Absolutely — but in the absence of anything better, you need to make the most of the options available to you. If you can come up with a more interesting idea, then give it a try. You’ll likely find that your fellow students are entirely open to suggestions, giving you the opportunity to unleash your creativity.
Work towards some clear goals
When you’re isolated, the days can start to blur together, and you can end up obsessing over one thing in particular: when all this madness will end and life will go back to normal. But when your mind is on that halcyon occasion, you’ll inevitably neglect the present, and your daily life will end up devoid of purpose. It certainly doesn’t help that so many academic institutions still haven’t figured out what they want their students to do for their courses.
This is why you need to work towards some clear goals. Figure out what you can achieve during this time without external assistance, and put effort into getting it done. You could concentrate on raising your job prospects so you’ll be prepared to find work, for instance, or learning a foreign language, or even reaching a firm conclusion about your career intentions. Pick out short-term milestones you can reach along the way, and you’ll find student life much easier.
Scott McDougall (MPharm) is the co-founder and registered manager of The Independent Pharmacy, one of the UK’s leading independent online pharmacies. For more healthcare and treatment advice, visit their website.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, please refer to the contacts below.
Off the Record
Off the Record Bath offers counselling and listening support to improve the emotional health and wellbeing of young people. The counselling team offers 6 to 12 sessions for people aged up to 25. You can complete self-referral form here: https://www.offtherecord-banes.co.uk/contact
SU Advice and Support Centre (01225 38 6906)
The Advice & Support Centre can guide and support you with any problems you may have during your time at university. The team can offer confidential, independent and non- judgemental information, advice and support. The centre can be found in the lower level of the SU.
Wellbeing Team (01225 383838)
The team of advisers provide wellbeing and welfare advice to all students. You can drop in or arrange an appointment with an adviser in 4 West.