Surviving your first year of University

By Samuel Clinton

In my first year of University, many moons ago, I got overwhelmed and ended up struggling with depression - it really can happen to anyone. So, following my experiences, here are 3 tips that might help you navigate starting University and that I wish I'd perhaps known at the time. But just before we delve in, my top pointer is to put yourself out there and have fun. Follow your passions and interests; join a society, pursue a hobby, go on a date, join the gym, go clubbing, read a book, go to film club, explore new places, read around your subject. The possibilities are endless. So without putting too much pressure on yourself, I'd really recommend just giving things a go and enjoying the experience.

1. Lower your expectations and learn to be patient, kind and understanding

A key thing I learnt whilst at University is patience, a crucial skill we need in life. I came to University with the usual dreams and expectations: make amazing friends, loads of drinking and socialising, doing a course I love and am passionate about, working out and getting a six pack, securing summer internships and work experience, joining loads of societies and activities... But my expectations were pretty naïve. Obviously not all of that happened, and definitely not in the way I expected it to. But that is life, it's surprising and a learning curve. You’re not going to have everything figured out by the end of first year, or even the end of your final year. Where would the fun in that be after all? So, learning to be patient and just enjoy each moment really helps. Life is what you make of it. Things won’t always go smoothly and living so intensely with others, who are effectively strangers in the beginning, can be tough at times. Bad things happen and life’s unfair, but life goes on. We need to learn to be grateful for what we do have, take responsibility for our actions, understand the other persons perspective, try to always be kind and make amends. Life is too short for regrets. Another valuable lesson I learned is to take each moment how it comes, without any huge expectations.

2. Failure is not only okay, but it’s the greatest teacher

We’ve all done things we regret, or are embarrassed or even ashamed about. But we learn from our mistakes, which in itself is a success. The only real failure is if you give up after the first hurdle. In the first year I perhaps was insensitive to my flatmates, now I try to be more understanding of people and less judgemental. Your failure doesn’t define you. In fact, failure provides us with life lessons we can learn from. By learning from our mistakes, we grow as a person and develop resilience and determination. We all make mistakes but don’t make the additional mistake of holding grudges against people and becoming bitter and resentful. It’s draining physically and mentally and really is a waste of time. Forgive other people because they’re only human, and they’re also trying to navigate uni life and all the pressures. We’re all learning, failing and succeeding as we go along. None of us are perfect, including ourselves, so forgive yourself as well.

3. Vulnerability and honesty are not a sign of weakness, but signs of strength

In my first year I was not honest with people about how I was struggling with mental health issues. The simple reason for this was because I did not want people thinking I was weak and that I could not cope, in particularly being a male, I felt useless. I felt that people viewed men as being strong, able to cope with what life throws at them and able to tackle life head on. I was so concerned about what others, including my family, would think. But vulnerability and openness are the keys to good relationships and solid foundations. Being honest about how you’re doing is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. People actually admire you more. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I wish I’d done it in my first year as I would have got less overwhelmed and built better support networks. As cliché as it sounds, it’s not about the quantity of your relationships, but the quality. We need those we can rely on and trust, people to talk to when life gets tough, those we can be honest and open with, as their support will be invaluable. A conversation can sometimes make all the difference. One of the worst things about poor mental health is that it makes you feel like you are the problem, a burden even, and that you are all alone. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

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