Starting university is undeniably a monumental life transition, one that can be accompanied by a swirl of emotions. For many students, anxiety becomes an uninvited companion during this journey. It’s essential to recognize that you’re not alone in this experience. The apprehension that often accompanies the beginning of your university years is entirely normal.
The anxiety that creeps in as you prepare to step into the world of academia is a natural response to a host of factors. Academic pressure, the weight of social expectations, the prospect of being away from the familiar comfort of home, and the challenge of adjusting to a new environment all contribute to this sense of unease.
Consider this: You’re not the only one feeling this initial anxiety. The journey to university is a shared one, and countless students, both past and present, have walked a similar path and have struggled with anxiety as they embark on their university adventure. So, know that what you’re feeling is entirely within the bounds of normalcy.
It’s important to realise that not all university anxiety is the same. There are various forms of anxiety that you might encounter – academic anxiety, the fear of underperforming; social anxiety, the nervousness about making new friends and fitting in; homesickness, the longing for the comforts of home; and more. Identifying the specific type of anxiety you’re facing can be a crucial step in finding the right coping strategies to overcome it.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the intricacies of university-related anxiety. We’ll examine the commonality of these feelings and strategies for handling them with greater ease.
Tips and reassurance for specific worries and anxiety about starting university
Transitioning to a new life
Starting university life often brings a whirlwind of changes and transitions. It can be overwhelming to contemplate the shift towards total independence, including managing everyday tasks like cooking, laundry, and daily responsibilities. With a new environment, new teachers, new friends, and perhaps a new place to call home, it’s entirely natural for students to experience a range of concerns and anxieties.
The human brain, as remarkable as it is, tends to resist change and uncertainty. Adaptation requires additional energy, and our minds prefer the illusion of control. Now, imagine that you’re juggling multiple changes all at once—it’s no wonder that stress can creep in. Moreover, our brains have a knack for fixating on potential future problems. This inclination to anticipate and plan is, in essence, a safety mechanism. Your brain’s way of saying, “Let’s be prepared for anything.”
While anticipatory anxiety is a perfectly normal response to such significant life changes, there’s no magic wand to make it vanish instantly. However, we’d like to offer some tips to reassure you that you’re more than capable of navigating this transition. The key is to dive into it headfirst and discover that it’s not as daunting as your brain may have painted it to be. You’ve got this!
Tips from a therapist:
- Trust your resourcefulness: Uncertainty is beyond our control. We can’t predict what will happen when you begin university, but you can have faith in your ability to adapt and tackle challenges. Our minds are inherently designed as problem-solving machines. Nurture the belief that your mind will find solutions if difficulties arise during this transitional phase. Trust yourself.
- Remind yourself of times when you overcame change: Remember, you’ve successfully navigated through all the changes and challenges that have come your way thus far.
- Allow yourself to be anxious, sad, or whatever emotions you’re going through: It’s a natural inclination to want to rid ourselves of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, but often, resisting these emotions only compounds our distress. While you may not have control over the initial anxiety triggered by life transitions, you can choose to cease the struggle with these fears and the added suffering it brings. At Psychology Therapy, we specialise in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), a therapeutic approach that empowers individuals to embrace their emotions and let go of the struggle. We encourage you to explore this method further, perhaps by seeking online resources or connecting with a qualified therapist who can provide guidance. Remember, we are here to assist you in this journey.
- Learn self-compassion skills: Acquiring self-compassion skills is essential when facing significant changes. Recognize that navigating these transitions can be challenging. By treating yourself with the same compassion and kindness that you would offer to a friend, you can effectively cope with anticipatory anxiety and any anxiety that may arise throughout your university journey. Begin by exploring the resources available on Kristin Neff’s website. She is a recognized authority in the field of self-compassion, and you can find a variety of exercises and self-compassion meditations there. If you find that you require further assistance in cultivating self-compassion, our practice also provides compassion-focused therapy (CFT). This therapeutic approach is designed to assist individuals in developing greater self-kindness and compassion.
You might be fearing feeling homesick, once you leave your home. Homesickness is not a sign of weakness or immaturity; it’s a testament to the meaningful connections you’ve built in your life. The places and people you hold dear have left a lasting impact on your heart, and it’s natural to long for that sense of familiarity. It’s entirely okay to miss the warmth of home, the familiar faces of loved ones, and the comfort of your old routines.
It’s equally important to understand that not everyone feels homesick, and that’s perfectly acceptable as well. The absence of homesickness doesn’t diminish your love for your family and friends; it merely reflects the diversity of human responses to new challenges. Your unique way of adapting to this transition is entirely valid and should be respected.
Going to university is an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. Over time, you’ll find a balance between cherishing your roots and embracing new experiences. You’ll build new connections, create a sense of home in your new environment, and carry the love and support from your family and friends with you.
Fellow students, university services, and friends you meet along the way can be your new source of comfort and companionship. And remember, with each passing day, you’ll become more resilient, adapting to this exciting chapter in your life.
Tips from a therapist:
- Remind yourself that our minds often exaggerate future anxieties, making them seem worse than they’ll turn out to be: When you start university, your days will be filled with attending classes, meeting new people, and various activities like shopping. It’s important to understand that homesickness won’t dominate your entire day. It’s much more manageable than your mind may lead you to believe.
- Validate your feelings and bring self-compassion: Acknowledge your feelings of worry and respond with gentleness. One way to begin is by selecting a simple phrase to repeat whenever fear arises. You can say, ‘This is challenging; may I be kind to myself’.
Managing academic stress
Beginning your university journey can indeed be academically challenging. You’ll find yourself absorbing new knowledge, potentially through different methods and approaches. Although this transition may appear daunting, it’s crucial to remind yourself that you’ve reached this point because you possess the capabilities to navigate these academic waters.
As with any of the other adjustments we’ve explored, adapting to the fresh academic demands is a process of growth. Trust in your ability to evolve and rise to the occasion. The path forward is to embrace these challenges head-on because, as they say, the only way out is through!
Tips from a therapist:
- Remind yourself that your brain is envisioning worst-case scenarios as a way of safeguarding you from potential failure: However, this can lead your mind to dwell on and attempt to prevent problems that may not exist, leaving you without solutions to hypothetical issues. This sense of powerlessness and uncertainty can be even more unsettling than the initial fear. But it’s essential to recognize that it’s precisely that – a hypothetical scenario. Once you’re at university and encounter genuine academic challenges, you’ll have the capacity to identify and implement solutions. You can turn to friends for assistance, request extensions, increase your study efforts, and more. Consequently, the stress you encounter is likely to be more manageable than your current mental narrative suggests, as you will have possible solutions at hand.
- Reflect on moments when you successfully navigated academic stress: This isn’t your first encounter with it. Recall instances when school-related stress weighed on you, yet you managed to overcome it effectively. If you’ve achieved it once, you can do so numerous times
Making friends at university
You might also have concerns about not knowing anyone and the prospect of meeting new people. Building new friendships can require some effort, and it’s natural to find it a bit intimidating, as not everyone enjoys conversing with strangers. However, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is in the same boat as you. Friendships and social groups haven’t fully formed yet, and the people you’ll encounter during your first year at university are just as eager to make connections. They are generally more open to socialising and will likely welcome conversations with you.
There are numerous opportunities to meet these individuals who are also seeking new friendships. You can interact with them in class, within your accommodation, on campus, at the union, during social events, and in various other settings.
Tips from a therapist:
- Remind yourself that the reality at university won’t be as daunting as your mind may currently paint it: When you’re on campus, you’ll discover that approaching and engaging with people will become more manageable than your current mental perception. Opportunities will present themselves, and you’ll navigate them just fine.
- Engage in self-exposure and self-challenge: In therapy, we frequently employ exposure techniques to assist individuals in confronting their fears. If you’re apprehensive about engaging with new people, that’s precisely what you should aim to do. Push yourself to initiate conversations with strangers in various settings – whether on the streets, in classrooms, or even with teachers. If you find that social anxiety is a significant hurdle, consider seeking guidance from a skilled therapist. We have the expertise to assist you with this journey.
Expectations from yourself or others
Dealing with the anxiety of starting university becomes more challenging when either you, your parents, or your surroundings place excessively high expectations on your shoulders. You might sense the pressure to excel academically or feel compelled to achieve top grades. This anxiety is widespread among university students, driven by a society that often equates anything less than excellence with failure. In today’s world of social media, we frequently follow influencers who appear incredibly successful, exceptionally intelligent, charismatic, and affluent – they seem to have it all. This can lead us to believe that their lifestyles represent the norm, leaving us with a sense of inadequacy.
Nevertheless, the truth is that the majority of us attain average grades in university, secure decent jobs, maintain a limited circle of friends, possess an ordinary level of physical attractiveness, and lead predominantly average lives. Average is, in fact, the norm, and being average is perfectly acceptable.
The cost of setting unrealistically high expectations is that it sets you up for failure, as meeting such lofty demands is often exceedingly challenging. This can take a toll on your mental well-being and even impact your academic performance.
Tips from a therapist:
- Learn about growth mindset: A growth mindset presents a wholly different perspective. Instead of anticipating high grades, which ultimately may not be entirely within your control, you can set your sights on giving your absolute best effort – something entirely within your control. It’s not about achieving specific outcomes; it’s about dedicating yourself to hard work, embracing the learning process, and evolving as you progress, regardless of the results that may or may not follow. You can find resources online to know more about this mindset and how to foster it.
- Learn self-compassion: Many times, high expectations and the pursuit of perfection are grounded in the fear of failure or the constant worry of not measuring up. These fundamental beliefs frequently lead to self-criticism. In such instances, self-compassion can serve as a valuable ally. Dedicate time each day to nurturing self-compassion; it’s a skill that can be strengthened over time, much like a muscle. You might find resources from Kristin Neff particularly helpful in this journey.