Maia Miller-Lewis kicks off our Freshers’ Week series with her top tips for taking care of yourself during Freshers’ Week.
It’s over. For better or for worse you have survived Freshers’ Week, likely sporting a rather persistent headache and some unexplained bruises…
As students, we hear a lot about how what to do if Freshers’ isn’t the best week of your life. What could be better than a non-stop party! Sleep maybe?
But what we’re not given is any advice on how to deal with the comedown: what comes next.
How do I socialise without alcoholic lubrication?
How do I cope with being thrown into an academic environment a world away from school?
These are just some of the questions that didn’t hit me until university really started. The realisation that I was surrounded by strangers, all working at an academic standard I had no experience of, hit me like a tonne of bricks. The phone calls that my parents had expected during Freshers’ Week suddenly started flooding in. Up to three sobbing phone calls a day became the norm.
I wish I had been given some advice on how to deal with these frantic fears so I will do my best to save you the trouble.
1 It’s okay not to be okay
Forget trying to be all big and strong. ‘Look, mum, I’m an adult now!’. No. No, you are not.
It’s not easy moving away from home for the first time, whatever age you are. As your space changes, you have to re-configure how you fit into your own life. The first step in addressing any anxiety or homesickness is acknowledging it. The more you suppress it, the more it will begin to frame your experience.
Naturally, not everyone has the kind of home environment that allows them to ring their mum at three in the morning and bawl their eyes out. But there is always someone you can turn to and share your incessant internal monologue. It might be your parents or a friend from home. It could even be that really nice Geography student in your flat. I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but people are generally quite nice. Indeed, more often than not, the people around you are usually feeling, to a greater or lesser degree, the same way as you, or are at least experiencing their own difficulties. You are never alone!
3 Walk the walk
One of the best things I did when I first started to experience anxiety was to go on very long and quite laborious walks. Not only is this a way to get some cheeky exercise (gyms can be quite scary), but it’s also a great way to try and deconstruct your state of mind and start to understand why you’re feeling rotten. An extra benefit of being a student in Bristol is that it’s a pretty kooky, cool city. Feeling a bit bourgeoisie? Explore Clifton! Interested in alternative arts? Wander into Montpellier and up to Stokes Croft. If you’re especially brave, venture into Bedminster and get a feel of what the city is like away from the ‘student bubble’.
4 Don’t be afraid of going out.
Whether it be joining a society or just going out for a pint with your flatmates, embrace every opportunity to get to know those around you. As obvious as it sounds, the more time you spend with people, the more comfortable you will feel in their company. I failed to realise this until the second term, often feeling like the odd one out. I was afraid nobody liked me when really, they simply didn’t know me. Disclaimer: this is not me advocating going on a mad one every night – unsurprisingly, continually going out and getting pissed won’t help anxiety. You may feel great at the moment, but you will pay for it the next morning!
Just make an effort to show people what a lovely person you are. Suggest a film night, a picnic in the park (top tip: Ashton Court). The possibilities are endless!
5 Don’t be embarrassed about going home
I don’t quite get why people take pride in not going home for their whole first term of university. We get it, you’re a strong independent person, that’s cool. But do you know what else is cool? A fully stocked fridge! Sitting on the sofa watching telly with your mum with a bottle of wine. My cat (the ginger god that he is).
I love going home once in a while and I don’t see why I should apologise for that. In my first term at Bristol, I went home every two weeks, and I am not local. It gave me the time to bed in, and gradually, I came to feel in control of my new environment. By the second term, I was staying for much longer periods, because I wanted too. This is not to say everyone should go home every fortnight, but it’s good to keep in touch with mundane reality, outside studentism. If you are feeling anxious or just a little sad, give yourself a break. It’s hard work being ‘on’, 24/7. If home’s not the right place for you, go and visit a mate – change your scene for the weekend. Forget what other people think and do what’s right for you!
I know this may all just sound like common sense (probably because it is), but in the end, we’re all young. It’s easy to end up in a whirlwind of worry; just take a moment to step back and take stock. Don’t run at university 100 miles an hour. Just take it one step at a time.
Illustration by Mae Farrow.