The "best years of your life"
It's something we've all heard: your time at university will be "the best years of your life". This may be true for some people, but chances are you will go through some difficult times while at university, just like you might at any other time when big changes are happening in your life. It can be a lonely time, especially if you’re away from home and missing your family and friends. You might feel under pressure to make friends, decide who to live with and meet course deadlines. And knowing how much money it costs to study at university may make you feel stressed about money, or like there’s lots of pressure for you to do really well academically. On top of that, it might seem like everyone else is coping fine and having the time of their lives.
However you feel is valid, but it is important to remember that almost everyone struggles with life at university at some point. In fact, a 2018 study found that:
- one third (33%) of students surveyed felt lonely often or all of the time
- almost nine in ten (87.7%) students struggled with feelings of anxiety
- over three quarters (75.6%) of students hid their mental health symptoms from friends.
So, if university life is making you feel overwhelmed, anxious and unhappy, you are not alone, and things can get better.
Preparing for uni
Whether you struggle with your mental health or not, preparing for uni can feel overwhelming. There are lots of things you may feel worried about, like making friends and finding your crowd, coping with the workload, money and, if you struggle with your mental health, having the right support available to you.
Here are our tips to help you prepare for uni:
Speak to someone you trust about how you’re feeling.
It’s natural to feel worried about starting uni, so speaking to someone else may help you feel less alone.
Research what support is available at your uni.
Most universities have a student wellbeing officer and/or tutors assigned to support you, and some even offer counselling services. Contact your uni’s student union or student wellbeing officer to find out what services your uni has.
Make a budget.
This can really help ease any money worries you have. For tips on how to create a budget, Save the Student have a guide you can use.
Make sure you have enough meds.
If you take medication, whether for your mental health or not, it can be a good idea to get a new prescription before you go to uni. Once you’re at uni, you should register with a local GP who will be able to help with medication, but getting your meds before you leave may take the pressure off. Read our medication pages to find out more.
Remember that you are not alone.
Most new students feel nervous or worried about starting uni, so you are not the only one! How you feel is valid and support is available if you need it. You’ve got this.
It’s worth knowing that most universities are well-equipped to support you through difficult times.
Looking after yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic
We know uni might be looking different this year and you may be feeling frustrated, angry, scared, anxious and alone. You may be self-isolating, and if you're a new student we know it can be worrying and upsetting to isolate in a new place with people you might not know that well yet. This is a difficult time, so whether you're starting university or returning for your second, third or fourth year, however you're feeling is valid.
Here are our tips for looking after yourself at this difficult time:
- Talk to someone you trust about how you're feeling. It's so important not to suffer in silence. It can be scary to open up about how you're feeling, but you are not alone - there are people who want to help. You may find it helpful to arrange set times to speak to your friends or family back home. Or if you'd rather talk to someone you don't know, we have a list of helplines and services below.
- Find out what support is available at your uni. Most universities have counselling services and you should have a student welfare officer or tutor who can help you get support if you need it. Search on Student Space to find out what support is available at your university.
- Register with a GP near campus. Even if you don't feel you need to talk to your GP right now, it's a good idea to register now so you can get help if and when you need it. Visit the NHS page for information on how to register.
- Try to get the basics in place. When we are going through times of change, it can be really helpful to have a routine to give us some structure. Think about basic things you can do to look after your body, like getting enough sleep, trying to eat a balanced diet and doing regular exercise if you can; these can all help with your mental health. If you are isolating, take a look at our blog on tips for creating a routine during self-isolation.
- Find a balance. If you are having virtual lectures, it may feel difficult to keep your studies and your personal life separate, which is why it’s really important to establish boundaries. Try to plan in regular breaks where you get away from your desk and do something you enjoy. This can also help break up the days. For more advice, take a look at our taking time out page.
- Don’t feel guilty for having an unproductive day. With everything that’s going on and the start of a new term, it’s totally normal to have off days, so try not to feel bad about it.
- Check in with how you're feeling. Some people find it really helpful to journal, or make a note of how they're feeling so they can see what does and doesn't help them feel better. If you're not a big fan of writing, you could try keeping a doodle diary. This can also be helpful to show to a doctor or counsellor if you feel you need more support.
- Try to focus on the positives. If you are self-isolating, it can feel like you're missing out on the 'typical' uni experience. There may be things you can't do, but what about the things you can do? You could organise daily or weekly activities with your housemates, such as having dinner together, holding a game night or starting a TV series together?
- Build new friendships in different ways. If you're starting university this year, you might be finding it harder to make friends without some of the usual activities and events. If you're struggling to befriend people in your accommodation, many student union groups are running events. They can be a great way to meet people who enjoy the same things as you.
- Don't put too much pressure on yourself academically. It's important at times like these to prioritise your mental health, so give yourself a break if you need one!
- Remember that you are not alone. We're all in this together and lots of students are feeling the same as you. Together we will get through this.
- Text YM to 85258 for urgent support, day or night. Find out more about how to get urgent help.
Nobody could predict that we’d be studying within these circumstances, so you should feel so proud that you have gotten to this point.
Tips from our bloggers at university
It is okay to be scared. Your bravery for taking this leap if you’re also tackling mental health challenges is amazing and something to be proud of! I was definitely nervous about all sorts of things before I started uni: meeting new people, getting used to a different city, finances, accommodation and transferring care teams. I was also filled with self-doubt and worried that I had got in by mistake and that as soon as the work started I would be kicked out! Worst of all, I felt like I was the only one struggling.
As a current university student myself, I have had sleepless nights about how my experience will be changed due to the current situation; however, I think it’s important to realise that every single university student is experiencing the exact same thing. We cannot control what is happening, so why should we spend so much time worrying about something that we can’t change? I know that it’s easier said than done, but please try to understand that you are not alone and the fact that you’re still able to participate in university this year is a huge blessing – try to focus on the positives and be proud of yourself for everything that you have achieved to get you to this point.
Where can you find support on campus?
If you’re struggling to cope, a good first step is to talk to your GP - make sure you’re registered with one at your uni. It can help to write down what you’ve been going through before your visit.
Most universities have counselling services, which will give you the chance to talk through your experiences in a non-judgemental space. Find out more on your uni’s website.
Tutors and student welfare officers
There may be a tutor assigned to give you pastoral support, or a student welfare officer you can talk to.
Student Minds run support groups, especially focusing on depression and eating disorders, which are led by other students.
In an emergency
If you’re about to harm yourself or have already done so, phone 999 or go to A&E and explain that you’re at risk.
The most important task for me to do before anything else was to ensure that I had reached out for help.
Self-care at university
There are things you can do yourself to help look after your mental wellbeing at university. Our blogger Josh shares the self-care tips that helped him:
Jogging, running, swimming, anything that helped get my endorphins flowing.
2. Accepting that I was ill
This was difficult because mental illness isn’t as tangible as a physical condition. However, trying to pretend I was fine only made things worse. I had to be kind to myself and put in the correct self-care.
3. Maintaining relationships
Socialising seemed like a pretty arduous task at times, but it helped to stay connected with the world.
4. Cutting down on alcohol
Drinking might have made me feel better in the short term, but it only masked the problem rather than solving it.
5. Looking after my body
This meant improving my diet, sleeping well, and drinking plenty of water.
6. Speaking to others
This was the most important thing I did, and by leaning on those close to me, I was able to get the day-to-day support I needed.
Do some research regarding the support systems that your university provides.
When I'm having a difficult time, I try to take a step back, acknowledge how I'm feeling and actively take time to myself to relax.
There are many ways to stop stress becoming overwhelming. During my exams, making lists was really helpful for me. By organising my deadlines and what I had to do for each one, I stopped allowing my problems to escalate in my mind.
You are allowed to feel homesick and lonely - this is just a normal part of the process.
Make plans back home - This might sound counter-intuitive to making friends at university, but keeping home life exciting and having something to look forward to will help with the initial move.
It may not seem like eating healthily would affect your outlook or mood, but you may be surprised. Why not try switching up your diet? There are hundreds of recipes and advice online that can be accessed on Google.
One of the best things I did in my first months at university was get together with my flatmates to cook every evening. Working on something together and connecting in a way that doesn't involve drinking can help cement strong relationships.
If you're struggling with the pressure of exams, it's important to speak to someone. Whether friend, family, staff, counsellor or helpline - there's always someone who will help. Accepting help and using the support network around you is a critical way to cope during the exam period.
Real stories about looking after yourself at uni
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Helplines and services
Text YM to 85258
Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.
All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.
Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.
Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.
- Opening times:
A free, confidential listening service for you to talk about anything that is on your mind.
Services and opening times vary from institution to institution, but often there is a phone, text, email and live chat service.
See if your university has a nightline listening service.
- Opening times:
- Varies from university to university
Offers confidential advice and support for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Its helpline service - HOPELINEUK - is available to anybody under the age of 35 experiencing suicidal thoughts, or anybody concerned that a young person could be thinking of suicide.
- Opening times:
- 9am – midnight, 365 days a year