Fresher’s week (or fortnight). The most exciting time of your life. Meeting tons of new friends, dancing ‘til dawn, freebies at Freshers fair. What could be better?
Now, I went to Bible College, so my Fresher’s Week was far from typical, but I’m pretty sure that how I felt during Freshers Week is pretty common.
To put it plainly - I felt way out of my depth. And I was scared. Scared of making friends, scared of lecturers, but most of all I was scared that there was no way I’d match up, no way I’d be able to complete a demanding degree course.
So on my third day, I jumped in my car, having only passed the week before, and bombed down the M25, all the way home. It was not my finest hour. But it got better! By my third week, I felt at home and could barely remember what I’d been so scared about. For some, Fresher’s week is the best time of their university experience, for others - it’s the worst. For the rest, it’s a strange combination of terrifying, exciting, exhausting and exhilarating!
Even for those who love it immediately - starting university, moving away from home, meeting new people, surviving on less sleep and learning to cook for yourself can put a strain on your brain. All of these factors, plus hormones and all the funny things happening in your brain during your late teens and twenties can mean that you’re at a higher risk of developing a mental illness. It’s a sad and shocking fact that students have higher rates of mental illness than the rest of the population. Whilst 13% of the general population suffer from anxiety - in the student population it’s 34%, and whilst 4% of the general population struggle with eating disorders - in the student population it’s as high as 10%.
It’s a scary statistic- but studentdom doesn’t mean automatic mental illness anymore than studentdom means automatic hoody-wearing and baked bean eating!
Whether or not you’re facing mental illness, there are a few things that you can do to help you stay mentally well during a frantic freshers fortnight!
Firstly, make sure you eat and drink right! A pizza and beer once in a while does no harm - but remember that the sweetcorn on your Hawaian doesn’t count as one of your 5-a-day! Try and get some fresh fruit, veg and fish in your diet, even if they’re from food parcels from home or the ‘basics’ range.
Secondly, make sure you register with a local GP, it might not be the most exciting bit of your Fresher experience, but it’s one of the most important.
Thirdly, make sure you get a good amount of sleep. This goes for over-sleeping as well as under-sleeping, sleeping 18 hours might feel good at the time, but it’s not that great for your grey matter to get your days and nights all muddled up.
Finally, get connected to your local Church. Not only is it a great way to meet people and get a good Sunday roast(!) it can also help you keep up with prayer and bible reading, not to mention finding some people to support you and remind you to go to bed or eat something green once in a while!
A guest blog about keeping your mind healthy during the big changes and experiences of Freshers, from our mate Rachael Costa founder of the mental health charity Think Twice.