While exciting, starting university can be a really challenging time for any young person. This is the case, especially if starting university means moving to an entirely new town or city that’s far away from home and your closest friends and family. We understand that university can feel a little daunting at times, especially when you start but also throughout your time at uni. So, is it normal to be nervous as a student at university? Absolutely, yes. But there are plenty of things you can do to help manage those nerves and get on with your studies and enjoy yourself. Here are our top 4 tips for managing anxiety and nerves while at university.
TIP 1: Take good care of yourself
Practising self-care is the first thing you can do to help stay on top of your stress levels and keep your nerves at bay. If you need to spend a lot of time by yourself to recoup, that’s what you should do. If you find that being around people fulfils and energises you, you should seek out spending time with others. The important thing is to recognise what you personally need to stay well and remember that self-care looks different for everyone. Here are some of the things that many of us find are good for the mind, body and soul:
Exercise is proven to help manage anxiety. It allows you to physically be away from your desk where you work and go outside to release some endorphins. You don’t need to pay for a gym membership or join classes. Just running around the park once or twice a week will have a positive effect on your mental health. Even a short walk away from your laptop or books will do you the world of good. It helps clear your head and is proven to boost self-esteem. It also helps with making sure you get a quality night’s sleep.
Not getting enough quality sleep can very easily lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety, so if you notice you are becoming increasingly nervous, it’s really important to take a look at your sleep routine. Tiredness and fatigue will make it much more difficult to concentrate in class and can affect your memory which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to revise for exams. Not getting enough sleep will also make social situations a bit more difficult, so if you suffer from social anxiety, take some time to get your sleep routine in order, and you won’t regret it. Firstly, are you getting enough sleep, or even too much sleep? You should be sleeping around 7-9 hours every night to function well. Are you staying asleep? If you find that you get to sleep ‘on time’ but you regularly wake through the night, you might want to look at the temperature or light in your bedroom and adjust these. A cooler room will tend to give you a better night’s sleep. The most common sleep problems among students are caused by the amount of time spent on screens. So, combat this by doing something screen-less for at least 1.5 hours before you want to get to sleep. This could be reading, taking a bath, listening to music or a podcast.
This is a simple one – too much sugar and lots of caffeine will lead to bursts of energy and crashes. And they will both affect your sleep too. Avoid caffeine after lunchtime and swap it for water to keep yourself hydrated. Keep your body nourished with lots of fruit and vegetables.
Being able to retreat to a comfortable apartment or room that you look forward to getting home to is important as it’ll help you unwind at the end of any particularly stressful days at uni. Create a relaxing space with some low lighting or candles to keep yourself cosy. Stock your fridge with food that reminds you of home. Display a couple of pictures of your family or friends from home to remind yourself of happy times. Keeping your room tidy and uncluttered will help keep your head clear too. And most importantly, have a space to relax that isn’t where you work. This might mean actively creating a little corner of your room away from your desk where you can read or listen to music.
TIP 2: Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
We understand that it’s easier said than done, but try to be realistic about your workload. There will likely be a big step up in what’s being asked of you compared to your A-Levels or whatever course you might have done before starting university. You know your capabilities better than anyone. So, yes be prepared for that step up in ability, but also be aware that maintaining the same grades you’ve achieved up to this point might be a little harder. Don’t be downhearted if your grades do slip a little. Over the course of your degree, there will be time to establish the needs of each of your modules so that you can get where you need to be in terms of your marks.
Of course it’s a good idea to aim high and be ambitious with what you want to achieve, but putting a lot of pressure on yourself will only lead to anxiety, which can negatively affect your grades anyway – so if anything, pressuring yourself is counterproductive. When choosing your course or any options for modules that come up later on, be sure to factor in other time commitments, like work and any extracurricular activities you’re involved with. And don’t forget to factor in some time to relax, rest and recover.
The same goes for getting involved in absolutely everything that’s offered. You might be enthusiastic at the beginning of term and feel like you should join this society, that sports team, join every social occasion that comes up – but, taking on too much can really take its toll after a while. So remember to just take on what you can easily manage to avoid feelings of overwhelm when times get overly busy.
TIP 3: Identify what triggers your nerves
Keeping on top of your nerves will be easier when you understand what causes them. Being aware of the triggers means that you can either avoid those triggers (where appropriate) or figure out how to tackle them head-on. Your stress or anxiety triggers might be anything from deadlines approaching, difficult things going on at home or with friends, or even getting to know lots of new people at university. Having started university, you will most likely have a number of major lifestyle changes happening, so it’s understandable that these will have an effect on your anxiety levels. But, remember that these things can all be managed as long a you’re aware of them.
Think about the things we mention in TIP 1 and what you’re putting into your body; are you drinking way too much caffeine? Do you need to cut down on sugar? Are you getting enough sleep? Having a heavy workload will trigger nerves for many students, so you won’t be alone if that’s a particular trigger for you. Relationship issues are another common one – you might be having issues with a friend or someone you’re dating. Loneliness or homesickness are also one of the most common triggers for university students, especially international students who might be dealing with a bit of a language barrier and getting used to their new surroundings. Whatever it is that might be triggering your nerves, remember that you’re not alone. Recognise what it is, on a daily basis, that might be triggering you most that day so that you can talk about it with friends or family. The old saying is true, a problem shared is a problem halved.
Plan out your time
If you have a jam-packed schedule, it’s no surprise you are feeling stressed. Having a lot of deadlines on top of being away from home can be overwhelming. It might seem simple, but by taking some time to gather up all your deadlines and jotting them down, you will feel much more on top of things. It will allow you to plan backwards and plot in manageable chunks of time to get everything done. Seeing the amount of time you have on paper or on-screen means you can allocate your time out to each module or subject. Don’t forget to leave enough time for social activities and relaxing – seeing these in your schedule is reassuring as it’s a reminder that you do have time to fit everything in.
Talk about your stress
And finally, one of the first things recommended for anyone going through a stressful or difficult time is to talk about it with others. So, now is the time to lean on those around you. If you have a good relationship with your flatmates or your coursemates, tell them about how you are doing. They’re in a similar position to you so will be in the best position to listen. If you’re far away from home, do make use of video calls to stay close with your family and friends from back home. Just be careful to not spend too much time with them digitally as you may distance yourself from those around you at uni. If you’d rather speak to a professional about your stress, you can make use of your GP for this. Or, UWS offer a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) service called Silvercloud which is completely free for students and can help with rewiring your brain to help manage your stress levels. There are also charities like the Samaritans, Shout or Mind that offer someone to speak to about how you’re feeling if you’re ever in distress.
TIP 4: Reach out
Continuing on from TIP 3, speaking to others about what’s going on in your head is incredibly important. Ironically, speaking to your flatmates about your nerves might be a little nerve-wracking, but it will be well worth it. People understand and are often keen to know how they can help. Your flatmates or coursemates are all in a similar situation, so they’re potentially feeling similar to you. As well as all the new people in your life, spend some time catching up with those back home on the phone or on video chat. Never feel like there’s an expectation on your to be having a great time. They will want to hear how you’re getting on, which includes any struggles you’re experiencing. They love you and will want to support you. As well as friends and family, your university will offer support too. UWS have an online service called Silvercloud. This offers many CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) resources that can help you manage stress and anxiety and give you practical guidance on alleviating everyday nerves.