Sunday 13 September 2020

How freshers can make friends amid anxiety and a pandemic

Emilie uses her experience with tackling anxiety and making friends at university and sheds light on how this can be done during Covid-19.
- Emilie Bolt

Being thrust into an environment where you know almost no one can be a terrifying experience and one that thousands of first year students experience every year. This year’s freshers are faced with an even bigger challenge and it’s undoubtedly going to cause anxiety over how to make friends in this bizarre situation. As if moving away from home and being lumped with total strangers wasn’t enough, you now can’t mingle as easily with online lectures, social distancing, and limited society activities.

Here are some lessons and tips I’ve learned from my own experience that may be helpful for those anxious about making friends during the Covid-19 pandemic:

Meeting the flatmates

Introducing yourself and creating a bond early on can help you settle in more quickly to your new environment. Even if you’re initially unsure if these are people you’ll get on with, it’s important to make an effort to get to know them. You don’t want to be stuck with them later if you go into another lockdown and have to introduce yourself four months into living together.

Initial introductions to get conversations rolling with your flatmates could include:

  • Have you guys been to [insert city or town] before?
  • Have you looked at any societies yet?
  • I like your [insert compliment]
  • Would you like a cup of tea/coffee?
  • Would you like to explore the area?/Go to town?

Just in case you get really stuck there’s always the standard: What’s your name?; Where are you from?; What are you studying?; What A Levels did you do?

Some people absolutely click with their housemates and others don’t bond at all. If you don’t feel like you’ve found ‘your people’ - not to worry! There are still opportunities to meet with more freshers: 

@mytherapistsays / Via

Joining Societies

The best piece of advice I had about going to university was to take part in as much as possible. Every university has hundreds of societies which connect you to people with similar interests, and of all different ages and stages in their degrees. 

If you’re too anxious to jump straight in you can email ahead and ask a question. This way, when you go to meet everyone you already have someone to introduce yourself to. Find the person you emailed and ask ‘Hello, are you [their name]?’. They can then introduce you to everyone else. 

This introduction would work the same way even if your society meets are done remotely.

Twitter: @GentlemanVow


For most subjects, online lectures will be the norm for the foreseeable future. Seminars
*fingers crossed* are more likely to be face to face and in smaller groups. This is great for anyone anxious about larger groups of people.

You can easily grow closer to these people as you discuss different topics throughout the semester but it is also important to try and establish friendships at the start. By introducing yourself straight away you will a). feel more comfortable talking in an academic setting b). not feel like you’ve left it too long to say anything non-subject orientated when Christmas arrives (something I was guilty of in more than one module). 

Questions to strike up a conversation with course mates could be:
  • How have you found freshers/this year so far?
  • What societies have you looked at?
  • Do you think we’re actually just trapped inside a black mirror episode?

New Line Cinema / / Via BuzzFeed Health

My sweet secret weapon

I found making friends much harder than I thought it would be. There was something so very awkward about trying to be the one to strike up a conversation with someone as everyone else waited in silence outside of our seminar room.  

My solution: carrying packets of sweeties.

Nothing breaks the ice better than a “pssst…would you like a minstrel?”.

I have tried and tested this theory and more often than not it gets a smile at the very least and the most, a lifelong friendship. This is how I met one of my friends who, three years later, I have a tradition of going on holiday with.

Things to remember

  1. If you’ve asked for someone’s name and they’ve told you, remember to say ‘nice to meet you’, or something similar, afterwards. Don’t let them answer you and then follow with silence!
  2. You will not be the only one feeling anxious and this is an unprecedented situation so don’t feel ashamed about your shyness!
  3. Making friends with anxiety is never easy, but making an extra effort to build connections can really improve your university experience. Fake it till you make it!

Go for it everyone!

For more information, Student Space is here to make it easier for you to find the support you need during the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information on starting at university, visit Student Minds.

I am a MA Advertising and Marketing Student at the University of Leeds. I am writing to reflect on my own experiences of navigating mental health issues and the annoyingly important ways to handle problems as a student. I hope that my thoughts and suggestions will be helpful to anyone struggling.

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