Simple tips on keeping sane at university

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Catherine Momoh graduated from UEA with a degree in English literature. Here she explains why university isn't always easy, and what you can do about it

While university can be an exciting and thrilling experience, it can also be a difficult, bumpy road. For many of us it’s the first time we’re away from the comforts of home. It can be scary being responsible for yourself, keeping your grades up and staying sane. Here are a few tips to help.

1. Eat well; eat healthy

I cannot stress this enough. I used to have toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At the end of semester I’d return home anaemic and exhausted. I know, it’s effort to cook. It’s easy to just order in or skip it all together. However, malnutrition, anaemia, fatigue and depression are no joke. Ensure you’re eating fresh fruit and vegetables. Cook in bulk and freeze. Drink lots of water. 

2. Get your exercise

Not only is it good for your body but also for your mind. It really helps with your confidence and self-esteem. Join a sports society or join the gym. If you’re shy, get a friend to be your gym-buddy. 

3. Sort your finances

This will save a lot of headaches. At the start of term calculate how much everything costs: rent, bills, food, books, stationery, nights out. Avoid overdrafts and credit cards as much as possible. Open a savings account and put something in there, even if it’s a spare tenner you have. Get an NUS card, open a UniDays account, purchase a RailCard. If you want to buy something wait a couple of weeks until it’s on sale. Universities are always advertising jobs on campus. Also, go to the uni’s finance department and see if you’re eligible for bursaries. 

4. Get out and socialise

For some people, socialising is as easy as putting socks on. For others, like me, it’s daunting. What if they don’t like me? What if they laugh at me? What if this, what if that? All these questions would swirl in my head until I talked myself out of going out. Eventually, I worked up the courage to join societies, go to events, meet people and talk to my housemates. You don’t have to say yes to every invite you get but don’t say no all the time or people will just start to ignore you. 

5. Do your work

By the time you start university you’ve been in school long enough to know that leaving things until the last minute does you no favours. Start your work the day you get it. Do the reading, do the research, go to seminars, go to lectures. At the end of the day, it’s what you’re paying money for.

6. Find time to relax

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Find a hobby. Even if it’s just reading a book that isn’t course-related. Have the occasional Netflix binge. Visit your friends. Take a nap. 

7. Ask for help

Depression, anxiety, stress. All these things permeate universities and no-one talks about them because it’s meant to be ‘the best three years of your life’. University is stressful and most of us start with emotional baggage from home (for example, my parents separated a few months before I started). Faking happiness only works for so long.

It is OK to ask for help. Go to your advisor. Use the university’s mental health services. Speak to friends. I suffered depression in my first year but after talking to my housemates and advisor I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Don’t suffer in silence. 

8. Don't be hard on yourself

For most of us, university will not be the best three years of our life. (Think about it. Imagine living to be 100 and peaking only between 18 and 21. Like, come on.) Of course, university is fun and hilarious but don’t be downhearted if it doesn’t feel like that all the time.  

Where to find mental health support

Wherever you study, your university will provide mental health support for its students. Find out more about this in our article: What mental health can you expect at university?

The mental health forum is one of the busiest areas of The Student Room and is a great place to chat with people who understand what you are going through. 

Outside TSR, there are many organisations that can provide you with help whenever you need it. Here are some of them:

Watch more videos about student life

Our vloggers are sharing their experiences of student life direct from the campus. In this video playlist, we've collected their vlogs about making friends at uni, to help you get an idea of what it's like when you first start.

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