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Common challenges and getting help

Feeling anxious, homesick or negative

Far from reflecting on the many new opportunities before you, you may be wondering if you will ever feel settled. You may even be experiencing doubts about your decision to go to university in the first place. Most new students go through a ‘negative’ period in which their thoughts may be dominated by feelings of loneliness, anxiety, homesickness or a combination of these. It’s important to believe that you are not the only one feeling like this, even I those around you appear to be happy and coping well. Try to hang on in there – these emotions are normal, and hopefully they will fade away as you integrate into your new life.

In the first few weeks you may feel uncomfortable with your new lifestyle. Whilst others may appear to you to have fitted in already, you may find it difficult to feel enthusiastic about any of the events on offer and, in the absence of alternatives, you may find yourself in situations you would not normally choose. This can affect your self-perception as you may regard your behaviour as weak. Moreover, in between functions you may have little to do, yet be unable to relax and unwind due to anxieties about your new environment.


Understanding your feelings

Your feelings of isolation may be compounded by homesickness, particularly if this is the first time you have lived away from home. It is unsurprising that, faced with so many new experiences; you may crave security and familiarity. Negative feelings are common and can be exacerbated by the following:

  • Sudden changes in lifestyle
  • Anticlimax on experiencing university after having looked forward to it for so long
  • Becoming overwhelmed with the workload
    Not particularly liking the people with whom you’re living
  • Assuming that others are coping better than you and do not share your feelings

If you are feeling homesick, phone home and talk it through with your family and friends. However, try not to give up too quickly and rush home at the first available opportunity as this will not help in the long term. It will mean that you are not around at times when other freshers are making a big effort to initiate friendships and may mean you miss important social events. Instead, you might suggest that your friends from home visit you at university. This is particularly important if you are hoping to combine a long-distance relationship with life at university.

Some students live at home during their time at university, and if you are in this situation it is equally important that you carve a niche for yourself in the university social life. Although you may have an established group of friends at home, you should try and attend as many freshers’ events as possible and make new friends at university. Try not to rush home at the end of lectures each day but deliberately set aside an evening or two every week so that you can spend time socialising with your new colleagues.

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Positive suggestions

It may seem strange to admit feelings of loneliness in a university town populated by thousands of students, yet most freshers do feel lonely and isolated at first. Simply speaking to others will help, so try to be brave and take the initiative. If you walk into a room where you don’t know anyone, introduce yourself to someone else. This is easier at first meetings of clubs and societies, where time has normally been allocated for introductions, so make sure you have joined one or two.

A good strategy is to accept all invitations unless you really can’t face what is on offer. Whilst they may not necessarily appeal, they present an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. Once you have others with whom to share your thoughts and discuss your new experiences, student life will be much more enjoyable. If there is a communal area in your accommodation such as a kitchen, buy a newspaper, make yourself a cup of tea and inhabit it. Others may have the same idea. This way you will be able to enjoy the solitude of your room in combination with the social benefits of a communal space.


Seeking help

Don’t blame yourself for your feelings or see them as a weakness. Remember that you have left home for the first time; that you probably haven’t had to make new friends for several years, and that you have gone from being a big fish in a small pond with established friends and routines, to a new independent life in which socially, you have to start again from the beginning. If possible, share your thoughts with another fresher and listen to their perspectives. If you can’t do this and feel unable to cope, contact student support services and ask to talk to a counsellor. If you would rather retain your anonymity, you could talk to one of the volunteers at Nightline or the Samaritans. Nightline is a confidential helpline run for students by students. Its aim is to enable students to talk through their problems in a non-judgemental and anonymous situation, and is available through the night. You can obtain your local Nightline number from your University Welfare Office or by checking the notice boards in the students’ union.

If you really believe you have made the wrong decision, and you would like to leave, it is essential to talk things through with your personal tutor and another member of staff, as they may be able to offer constructive advice that is especially relevant for your situation. Leaving university should be thought of as a last resort: if you talk your problems through with those qualified to help, solutions can usually be found. It is worth remembering that in most cases student do adjust to their new lifestyles and for many, their time at university ranks amongst the happiest periods of their lives.

This content has been taken from The Student Life Handbook by Christine Fanthome.

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Getting help

Do:

  1. Get help as soon as you begin to feel overwhelmed.
  2. Check the obvious: are you getting enough sleep and relaxation time?
  3. Take a break if you need to: go home if necessary to think out a new strategy.
  4. Make a personalised study timetable so that you feel in control.
  5. Recognise that high stress points will be followed by quieter times.

Don't:

  1. Suffer in silence: there are people who can help.
  2. Believe that stress is inevitable: you can reduce your stress levels.
  3. Let life get out of order: sit down and work out what you need to achieve.
  4. Assume that everyone is coping better than you.
  5. Forget that your tutor is there to help you, whatever your problem.

Universities offer a range of support services. Find out what is available and make use of these if you need them. It is better to ask for help early on if you are experiencing difficulty. It is more difficult to find a good solution if you let a difficulty run on without seeking help. Most services are confidential. The Student Union usually has support or welfare officers that can offer advice.

  1. NEVER suffer in silence: take action as soon as you can.
  2. DO contact your personal tutor to discuss the problem.
  3. DO speak to the student welfare officers: they are trained to help you.

For more advice on getting help, see Chapter 7 of Lucinda Becker's How to Manage your Arts, Humanities and Social Science Degree.

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