Surviving Freshers week (and beyond) with depression and anxiety

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Posted on 16/09/2016 by George Watkins |

Second year student George talks about his experience of dealing with depression and anxiety during Fresher's Week and shares his survival tips.

Having suffered from anxiety and depression for nearly seven years, coming to university was one of the scariest moments of my life.

How could I leave home and move to a big city when I’d hardly left the small town I lived in for three years? The day I was meant to leave, my dad opened up the car, helped me put my things in, and before I knew it we were on our way.

I had a migraine from the stress of everything halfway there and I was emotionally exhausted, but I managed to make it to Cardiff and before long I was a university student.

The first few nights were tough… I was on the phone to our university Nightline sobbing my heart out, convinced I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.

The first few nights were tough. My birthday was my third day at university, and at 4am that morning I was on the phone to our university Nightline sobbing my heart out, convinced I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.

But I’m sat here now writing this on the anniversary of my journey to university and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been able to get help with my mental health conditions and they’re all but gone now.

I also feel more and more confident about facing up to my fears. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do, but I still can’t appreciate how far I’ve come, and I don’t think I will for a while yet.

It’s a big step for anyone to leave home. You’ve lived with your family for your whole life, then all of a sudden you’re thrown out into the new world of university and now everything is up to you; you need to shop for yourself, do all your own washing and keep on top of your chores - not to mention aiming for the best in your degree. It’s an awful lot, but you don’t have to go through it alone.

Nobody goes to university an expert in how best to live away from home - it takes time.

The great thing is that just about every student will feel the same as you.

Nobody goes to university an expert in how best to live away from home. It takes time. You’ve decided to take this step because you hope that the life experiences and the qualifications you gain from there will help set you up for the rest of your life. That’s your goal, but how do you navigate the tricky first few weeks?

I remember my first night vividly, like it was yesterday. My dad dropped me off, and before I knew it I was in a strange flat with strange people, and all my things were in bags on the floor of a strange room.

A year later, I’m still here. I feel totally settled, with a great group of friends. I’m loving my degree and the city I’ve moved to.

If I can do it, the chances are you can too. Here are some things that I learned on my journey:

  1. Talk to people. It sounds simple and almost a little bit silly to even mention, but so many people I’ve met and got to know over the past year have tried to put on a brave face and do it all alone. Speak to your family and friends from home, yes, but it’s possibly more important that you speak to your new flatmates/housemates/course friends about how you feel. 

    Make light of it. It won’t feel so much of a burden. Most universities have a Nightline service too, which has helped me on a number of occasions. You can usually call them between the early evening and the following morning. It's manned by a team of wonderful volunteers who will be able to listen and hopefully help you talk through some of your problems.

  2. Visit Student Support. At my university, there's a walk in counselling service during a set period every weekday with a trained professional who can offer advice and guidance. Most other unis will have something similar in place. They’re called Student Support for a reason. They will most likely be able to offer information and advice with areas like money too, and can be extremely helpful.

  3. Try to not go home for the first month or so. By pushing yourself to last through this period you will possibly find that everything seems a little bit easier and not as daunting as you first feel it is.

  4. Open up to new experiences and new people. You don’t need to go to pubs and clubs every night and feel awful the next day. It doesn’t make you any less of a person. I stopped drinking at the start of university to help control my anxiety levels, and now I wake up feeling clear-headed and ready for the next day.

  5. Eat well. It sounds straightforward, but it will help you feel better in yourself and can help with stress, not to mention keeping your energy levels up.

  6. Try to attend all your lectures and seminars. It’s worth it. Apart from making your academic life easier, you’ll find other lime-minded people on your course you might make friends with, and you can face the world of university together, rather than by yourself.

  7. Keep going. You’re doing much better than you think you are. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to miss home. It’s normal. You aren’t mad, stupid or unfit for university. Everyone feels the same.

Categories: Anxiety | University and student life | Depression

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George Watkins

George is a student at Cardiff University. He campaigns to improve mental health support and has shared his experiences in the media several times.

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