2 female students are sitting at a table. Both are folding colorful pieces of paper.
Students taking part in mindfulness exercise of origami

Managing changes

After looking at some of the practical skills to build your foundation, we want to touch on some of the more emotional side of things in this Step.

The idea of leaving home for the first time is nerve wracking and moving can be a stressful experience. Coupled with learning to be independent and being in a new environment, many students can become anxious and nervous before even starting university.

Preparation is one of the key things you can do to help overcome some of the nerves, and you should be aware of techniques to help before you arrive at university:

  • Look after yourself – eat healthily, take light exercise and maintain a regular sleeping pattern. Spend time with supportive friends and family and do things you enjoy.

  • Try to picture yourself as an outsider looking in on your situation. If it was someone else going through this, what would you do/suggest to help them?

  • Break tasks down and set achievable targets so they’re more manageable. Reward yourself when you achieve these targets and focus on your successes.

  • Challenge negative thoughts. You’re probably more able to deal with situations than you give yourself credit for. The following are some common negative thoughts that require challenging:

    • Being hard on yourself – no one is perfect, and no one expects perfection from you. Try to be satisfied with doing your best and be realistic about what that means.
    • Comparing yourself – judging yourself against others is a recipe for unhappiness.
    • Worrying about what could happen – Try to stop thinking about things that may never happen or exaggerating the negative consequences of events. Say, ‘Stop‛ to yourself, take a few deep breaths and bring yourself back to the present moment.
    • Doing it wrong - Try to accept your actions and be comfortable with yourself and how you do things.
  • Try some relaxation and breathing techniques to calm down the activity of adrenaline, and alleviate the physical effects of anxiety (see below). This will help restore your ability to think more rationally.

  • Focus on something totally unrelated, for example, phone a friend or do a crossword. This will combat unwanted thoughts and clear your mind before you return to the issue at hand (this is not the same as procrastination or avoidance).

  • Confront the situation. Try to remain in the situation and use relaxation techniques; it’s likely that the anxious feelings will subside in time. This way, you’ll prove to yourself that you’re able to deal with these circumstances effectively.

Relaxation techniques

Breathing exercise

Try ‘7/11’ breathing – breathe in slowly for a count of 7, imagine filling your stomach first and then your chest. Hold the breath for as long as it’s comfortable. Breathe out slowly for a count of 11. Repeat until panicky feelings subside.

Tense and relax exercise

This can help with getting to sleep which people find difficult when they’re anxious. Lie down and focus on each part of your body, tense and relax each one in turn, start with your toes, the top of your feet, your heels, ankles and so on, working your way through to the top of your head. Feel every part relaxing separately.

Emergency stop technique

This method can be used as a quick fix. Say sharply to yourself, ‘STOP‛. Breathe in and hold your breath for a moment before slowly breathing out. As you do so relax your shoulders and hands. Pause, then breathe in slowly again and hold. As you breathe out relax your forehead and jaw. Stay quiet for a few moments, notice your breathing, then go on with what you were doing, moving slowly and smoothly.

Speech bubble that reads: UoR tip

It’s important to recognise how you’re feeling about the transition from school/college to uni, and acknowledge that some people will find it harder than others. The above strategies can be used at any point when you feel anxious about a situation.

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Article adapted from the University of Reading’s Counselling and Wellbeing ‘Useful Resources’

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This article is from the free online course:

Live Smart: Your Essential Guide to Living at University

University of Reading