Surviving and Thriving in your First Year at University

Between us, our team has about a hundred years of experience of supporting students (slight exaggeration maybe 😊!).

Here we’ve collected together the main things we’ve found that might be helpful to you as you begin your journey here at University.

We’re also drawing on things that final year students have told us they wished they’d known when they started.  Things they wished they could’ve gone back and told their younger self. So now you get the benefit of that too.

Settling into Univeristy Life

It’s natural and OK to be nervous: don’t get caught up in thinking everyone else is confident, that they know what they are doing. Most of us came to university terrified! Just let it be. Be curious, explore, get to know the person next to you, and your tutor, the person in the café/shop/local pub. Explore the nearest fell, learn to meditate, and before you know it, you’ll start to relax and get into the flow of university life.

There’s so much to do! Starting University often brings with it a lot of things that need to be done.  Registration, student finance, preparing for lectures etc. Making a list of everything that needs to be done can help you to prepare and makes sure you don’t forget anything important.

While it’s a busy, exciting time, it can be easy to get swept up with all the things that need to be done. Remember to take some time for self-care that allows you to rest and recharge both physically and mentally. Don’t feel that you need to spend all your time being busy, you need some time to yourself.

You won’t be the first person coming to university to feel homesick: It might be frightening or upsetting if you’ve moved away from home for the first time, and your parents/family/loved ones have left after dropping you off. Feeling this way is perfectly normal and will soon pass.

Getting involved in an activity or socialising will help to give you something else to focus on. Living independently might feel overwhelming for the first days or weeks; adding a routine and some structure to your day will help you to settle in.

If the weather’s nice (or if you’ve got some bracing Cumbria weather then put on some warm clothes), and you’ve got some free time, a walk around campus is good exercise, which usually improves mood. It also allows you a chance to familiarise yourself with the campus, which helps to avoid trying to find your lecture or meeting on the day.

Balance: Although your university work is of course important, try not to lose perspective when it comes to your studies; remember you are more than a grade and it does not define you.

If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by deadlines and exams, get organised! Create a revision/essay timetable, breaking down your work into smaller, digestible chunks. That way you know what you need to complete and when.

Don’t overdo it. Try not to study any longer than you would if you were doing an average working day (around 7 hours). Allow for plenty of breaks and be boundaried. For example, if you have a lot of work, then study 9am to 6pm (with several breaks), and then mark the end of study time by doing a self-care activity, whether that be coffee with a friend, a walk or gym session or your favourite hobby.

Routines and Self-Care: When we feel worried or stressed, we might struggle to relax or sleep, which can then lead to getting more tired. We can start to lose touch with things we used to enjoy or give us pleasure, things that sustain us, eating and sleeping properly, getting some exercise. And all this makes it harder to concentrate, which then creates more stress. So, what can we do to help ourselves out of this cycle? 

  • Get into a routine with sleep, preparing meals, and exercise
  • Make time to do things you enjoy, chatting with people, a hobby…
  • Stay ‘connected’ with others, especially spending time around positive and supportive people
  • Doing something that gives you a sense of achievement for example, learning something new or completing a piece of work
  • Time to pause, relax and reflect. Check in with yourself at the end of the day, reflect on what you have achieved and what gave you a sense of pleasure and closeness
  • These things help to nourish both our mind and body
Light at the end of the tunnel

Try something new: Coming to University can be a time to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Although we are constrained by Covid, where possible, maybe it’s time to try something new. Take a fresh look at the societies and clubs available. It’s a good way to meet new people and have some fun.

Some useful maxims to live by: (Lorrie and I like the cheeky positivity of NLP and we’d like to share some of this wisdom with you)

‘There is no such thing as failure only feedback’. Such a great way to approach life! It supports me every time I get things ‘wrong’. For example, applying this to a situation where maybe I got a disappointing grade. Rather than thinking this is evidence that I am not good enough, to remind myself that it is now a great opportunity to learn how not to repeat the same mistakes and approach my work differently next time. It’s an opportunity to identify needs, tap into the available resources at the university and get skilled up.

‘If it’s possible in the world its possible for me, it’s just a matter of how’. There are many examples in the world of people achieving amazing things and reaching their personal goals.  Sometimes we forget what drives us to where we want to be. If we refocus our attention of why our chosen topic is important to us, we can then access what is valuable and meaningful to us. Once we reconnect to our life purpose we can continue driving forward and stay positive.

A useful tip for people who are worried about worrying. Sometimes overthinking can be a problem because having too many choices prevents us from making a choice and we remain inert. It can be useful to reframe this ‘The person with the greatest flexibility of thought and behaviour will have the greatest influence in any interaction (Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety). The things we think of are often limited by our own life experiences, thoughts and feelings. By listening, learning, and maintaining our curiosity, we can start to think beyond what we know. This leads to richer understandings, and a greater number of thoughts, feelings, behaviours and choices available to us.

People make the best choice available to them, given their model of the world and resources available to them at the time. This helps us to stop beating ourselves up over the mistakes that we make. Remembering this can also help us to develop patience when dealing with others, as we learn to accept that other people’s ideas and feelings are as important to them as ours are to us.

Remember that we’re here for you, if you need us. If you’re struggling just ask for help.

Student Minds have also produced some good information about coping with the transition to student life in the time of Covid.

The MH&WB Team: Bridget, Dave, Fred, Lauren, Lorrie, Nesta, Pat, Sarah, Shez, Tessa (in alphabetical order)

What to expect when you refer to the University of Cumbria’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Team

If you find yourself struggling to cope then there are a range of support services at the UoC. Of course reaching out to family and friends is usually a good idea as well. Even though you might not want to worry them, just think how you would want to help them if they faced a similar situation.

This blog has lots of information and tips on looking after yourself and improving your wellbeing, just take a look at the tags for the various topics. And we have also produced a list of self-help resources. If you’ve got to a point where you think you need professional advice and support then here is some information about Health and Wellbeing.

Information about the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team

About the Mental Health Team:

We had 600+ students make contact with us in the 2019-20; wanting help for a whole range of difficulties. These included low mood and depression, anxiety, panic and stress, relationship difficulties (with family, friends, colleagues, housemates, partners, etc.), current or historical abuse (sexual, physical, emotional), bereavement, homesickness, self-harm, drinking too much alcohol, eating problems, sleep problems, and a range of other emotional difficulties.

The team has practitioners from a range of professional backgrounds, with a wide range of therapeutic training, interests and experience. This includes Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Person Centred Counselling, Integrative Counselling, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Mindfulness Based Counselling, Solution Focused Therapy, Advocacy and Motivational Interviewing. 94% of students who have used our service would recommend it to a friend

Lake Windermere near the Ambleside Campus

How to access the service

You can access our service if you are registered with a programme of study at the University of Cumbria by completing this self-referral form, which should only take you about 10 minutes. (If you are studying on a programme at a partner organisation of the University of Cumbria, you will need to access the support services at that organisation). Filling in the form with as much information about you and your present situation as you can, will give the team a good starting point to help you work through your difficulties. The details you put on the form will only be available to the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team (unless you ask us to share it with others, for example your GP, or it is required by law – please speak to us if you have any concerns about this).

We will then get in touch to arrange a therapeutic consultation with one of our practitioners. Your appointment will come via the email address that you provide in the online form, so do check this regularly. To ensure the message gets to you rather than getting filtered as spam, please remember to check your spam/junk mail folder as well.

Please respond to the message by accepting the appointment date and time (or requesting to reschedule, if you can’t make the one offered). Please note that we will usually close a file if the student does not respond or not show up for their appointment, and in that case you will need to re-refer yourself.

At our first (therapeutic consultation) meeting we will try to make you feel as comfortable as possible, so that you can let us know the situation you’re struggling with. We will advise you on the limitations of the service, including the limitations of confidentiality. It will be an opportunity for you to ask any questions you may have of the services we provide. We will then suggest things that you could do to help, provide information about resources and other services that might be appropriate, and decide what else might be needed from our service.

It might be that a single session is all that is needed for you to begin to resolve your situation. Or one of our wellbeing courses might be the most appropriate thing to do. Or referred to other services within the University, or referred to specialist services external to the University. Or it might be that further 1 to 1 work is needed.

Complementing our service, there is also a free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, online support service provided by Togetherall

Wellbeing and Mindfulness Virtual Drop-in

Fridays 4:00 to 5:00 pm online, live via ‘Teams‘ – Starting on 25.9.20

We live in stressful times. There is just so much in the news and social media to cause us to worry. And then there are the stresses and strains of everyday living. University life is an exciting and positive time, and it comes with the challenges of a significant life transition, and academic work as well!

Here’s a fun and relaxing way to increase wellbeing and feelings of calm. Build skills to handle stress and improve mood.

Would you like to increase your coping skills? Is there a way to increase wellbeing and resilience? Here’s your chance to be kind to yourself and to create a nurturing space for yourself. We can’t ‘magic away’ the struggles of everyday life, but we can increase our ability to cope, and strength to face our challenges.

These sessions aim to introduce you to practical, easy to use, skills that can help to enhance your physical and mental wellbeing, and increase your ability to handle stress and manage difficult emotions.

The sessions offer ‘wellbeing hacks’ drawn from a wide range of sources – Movement & Yoga, Mindfulness, Breathwork, Compassionate Mind, CBT, Polyvagal Theory, EFT, Guided Imagery and the NHS Five Ways to Wellbeing:

  • Breathing and focusing techniques to help calm and centre
  • Simple mindfulness meditation practices to focus and quiet the mind
  • Visualisation techniques to increase feelings of wellbeing
  • Movement and postures that can settle emotions, and help us to feel more grounded
  • Learn how self-compassion and self-acceptance can be a key to wellbeing
  • Improve your memory, concentration and cognitive functioning
  • You will be offered resources to take away and practice to help strengthen these skills.

To sign up, just email me on Shehzad.Malik@Cumbria.ac.uk and I will send you the ‘Teams’ link to join.