Monday 5 October 2020

#FresherPressure: An Open Letter to the Fresher

Evie shares her advice on how to cope with the emotional pressures of being a fresher.

- Evie

University marks the transition between adolescence and adulthood. It’s a period of huge change – moving away from home, leaving friends and family, learning to clean, cook and manage money for the first time. Accompanying this upheaval is an enormous amount of pressure. Specifically, pressure for university to be the ‘best time of your life’. This develops into further pressure to:

  • Flood your social media with pictures and videos of you having a great time (further exacerbated by your home friends doing exactly the same thing). 
  • Form stronger friendships than the ones you have back home. 
  • Be popular if that’s something you weren’t at school. 
  • Maintain your popularity, even if that’s exactly who you were at school. 
  • Drink or to do drugs just to fit in. 
This often results in internal conflict, whereby you are caught between your excitement (fuelled by the anecdotes and expectations of others) and your fear (fuelled by the major life transition you are about to begin). There’s no shame in admitting that these pressures can become overwhelming. Of course, there are lots of positives that come with beginning university, and it will most likely provide you with many of your best memories. However, it’s okay to take off those rose-tinted glasses from time to time and admit that, at points, you will likely feel down and anxious. What you’re about to do is nerve-wracking. 

You may also feel homesick. It is hard to put into words exactly what homesickness feels like as it’s such a unique emotion. It might hit you straight away, it might hit you once the novelty of Freshers has worn off, or if you’re lucky, it might not hit you at all. However, when you get that sickness feeling that can’t be explained by a hangover, that’s homesickness! 

There’s also often a big pressure to drink or go to parties/clubs. I think it is important to remember that drinking doesn’t have to be your thing. You do you. If you don’t want to, it is okay to say no. Even if that’s your flatmates’ thing, it is still okay to say no. There’s almost 8 billion people in the world and probably a good few thousand in your university. It’s normal for your five flatmates to have different interests to you. Don’t give up. Speak with people in other flats, people on your course or people in societies that interest you. You’ll find your people. 

‘You do you’ doesn’t just apply to those who go against the social norm – you shouldn’t feel guilty for saying no, but you also should not feel guilty for drinking and having fun. Of course, it is important to be yourself, but don’t be hard on yourself if you adapt your personality to fit in. This isn’t said enough – but it is normal and okay to adapt if that’s what you want to do. I think we’d be lying if we said that we hadn’t adapted our personality to accommodate the setting or the company we were in; it’s an intrinsic part of being human. A major part of the university experience is working out who you are. There’s a stigma that you have to be the same person you’ve been your whole life or that you have to maintain one social role. You don’t. Change is not always a bad thing. Be who you want to be. 

Everyone’s university experience will be different. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all guide to having the best time. However, there are some things that may maximise your enjoyment and help combat homesickness. 
  • Talk to others. I can almost guarantee that someone else will be feeling exactly the same as you are. They’re just waiting for someone else to say it so they don’t feel so alone. Be that ‘someone else’. 
  • Keep in contact with your family and friends back home. There’s more to you than what university you go to. You have a home, family and friends, a pre-existing support network. Utilise them. 
  • Distraction is key. When struck with anxiety or sadness, distract yourself. Make plans. Join societies. Go to the gym. 
  • BUT … also have that takeaway. Have that cry. Escape home for the weekend if you need to. Spend that day lying in bed doing nothing but watching Netflix and embracing the hangover-induced anxiety. There’s no ‘right’ way to do uni. Do whatever is best for your mental health. The Instagram posts and drunk stories definitely play a part, but it’s also about personal growth and self-care. Importantly, it’s about remembering that, yes, this very well may be the best experience of your life, but equally, you are defined by more than just your uni experience. It’ll be overwhelming at times. But you’ve got this.

For more support, see Student Space or Transition into University.

I'm Evie, a recent Psychology graduate working in the field of mental health. I want to share the advice I wish I had received as a fresher. My main message to everyone is to not be afraid to be you, no matter who 'you' are.

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