Dear My Fresher Self...
Taking a look at my experience of maintaining wellbeing and resilience at university, and some top tips I would give to myself if I had a time machine...
Dear My Fresher Self,
I hope you’ve settled into your room okay, try not to be intimidated by the exposed prison-brick walls, the prospect of sharing a small bathroom with 11 strangers, and the creepy new flat-mate you just passed in the hallway. University will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life (and that creepy guy will become one of your best friends.) But here is some advice from me to me, and to others considering or starting uni, informed by the very valuable tool of hindsight, focusing on how to maintain mental and physical wellbeing.
I recently graduated from the University of Exeter with a first-class BA in English. I loved university, but for me, and many others, it put a huge strain on wellbeing. The dysfunctional lifestyle of binge drinking, drunk cheesy chips, sleeping until midday, and leaving stressful deadlines to the last minute, can have an extremely damaging effect. In my second year my unhealthy lifestyle caused my wellbeing to hit an all-time low. I started losing weight, despite (as a typical student) eating and drinking excessively. Whilst this might sound like a dream come true, it was actually an indicator that my body had stopped working properly. My mental health simultaneously plummeted.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, physical and mental health problems go hand in hand; “Research has found that 30% of people with a long-term physical health problem also have a mental health problem and 46% of people with a mental health problem also had a long-term physical health problem.”
Neglecting my wellbeing culminated in a health crisis. In my Christmas break, after a stressful term, I had a severe outbreak of psoriasis. Psoriasis is a painful skin condition and autoimmune disease, like eczema, but more intense and harder to get rid of. It is intrinsically linked to stress. My face became swollen, my arms came out in blisters, and the skin on my hand flaked off. I developed arthritis in my fingers, and my whole body was constantly itchy and painful. I became intolerant to all foods; eating anything would anger my condition. Mentally, I was at my lowest; I hated myself and was at war with my body. Whilst my experience of psoriasis is quite rare, it was ultimately a physical manifestation of me neglecting my own wellbeing. My body was screaming for me to take better care of myself.
A huge number of university students in England are struggling with wellbeing. Mental illness in the 16-24 age group is rife. ”In the 12 months ending July 2017, the rate of suicide for university students in England and Wales was 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students, which equates to 95 suicides or about one death every four days” (Office for National Statistics); this rate has not dropped in a year. The pressures of university means that as an already vulnerable age-group, we must focus massively on creating long-lasting mental wellbeing.
I recovered from my psoriasis outbreak and negative mentality by prioritising myself and getting into a self-care routine. If I could talk to my naive, wide-eyed fresher self, I would give her the following advice:
Say no to drinking sometimes- hangovers cause anxiety and stress
Take time to relax- have a bath or read a book
Eat well and drink lots of water
Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to social events if you are too tired- real friends will understand.
Surround yourself with supportive, positive people
It’s okay to not feel okay sometimes, and it’s important to talk about mental health
Find a work/life balance- try to keep on top of your work
Regularly check in with family
Join societies, spend time pursuing your interests, and throw yourself into everything university has to offer
Breathe- go outside and get fresh air
Most importantly: be kind to yourself
I will take this advice forward with me into future jobs. It’s so easy to forget to look after yourself when you are working (and playing) hard, but its importance cannot be overstated. Wellbeing and resilience techniques need to spread across universities and the businesses that university graduates will enter.
Once I achieved this balanced, positive mental wellbeing in my third-year, I was at my most academically productive and managed to achieve firsts in every final assignment. Practising mental, physical wellbeing and resilience is key to creating productive workplaces.
By Grace Proctor, Content Editor.