It is a huge achievement to secure a place at university, especially after such an uncertain couple of years.
Here are 4 things to remember as you prepare for the transition to student life.
The transition from school to university can be a difficult time, and it typically comes at a point in life where many individuals are at a higher risk of developing a mental illness, such as an eating disorder.
Some of you reading this may already have a diagnosed eating disorder and are preparing for managing recovery alongside your studies. Others may know that something isn’t quite right about their relationship to food and their bodies but haven’t yet received a diagnosis.
Before you start your studies, take a moment to reflect and recognise where you stand right now and consider what support you may need.
Remember, whilst you are going to university to study for your degree, you are also learning about who you are and how you want to be in the world.
1) Respond to your underlying needs
Whilst starting a new chapter can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming. You will be learning how to manage new workloads, environments and people, but you will also be learning about yourself.
A common behavioural response during times of stress can be to start controlling and restricting food intake. It’s important to notice this impulse arise and consider what other coping mechanisms you could turn to that are more supportive of your recovery.
Often, at the root of our impulse to restrict/binge/purge is a core need that has been neglected. By taking the time to listen, acknowledge and forgive how we feel, we can take steps forward towards undoing ingrained patterns of behaviour.
We cannot control a new, uncertain situation, but we can control our reaction to it.
2) Feel out your expectations
You may be going to university with a lot of hopes, fears and expectations. The stories we hear from our older siblings or friends can help paint a picture of what to expect but it is important to remember that your university experience is your own. It may be a new stage in your life, but you will still be you.
Consider how you may feel around groups of new people, how you feel about preparing and eating meals by yourself and also by others. What might you need in your recovery toolbox to help navigate these moments? Planning ahead helps mitigate moments of panic and overwhelm.
Despite the excitement of new people and new environments, grant yourself permission to say ‘no’ when you don’t have the energy. It can be a lot to process so give your emotions room to breathe when you can.
It may be helpful to take a few moments to write your fears down on a piece of paper, and on the other side of the paper, respond to each one in a loving way like that of a perspective of a friend.
3) Getting help and support
If you have a pre-existing mental (or physical) health condition that requires regular check-ins, make sure to speak to your GP or specialist about moving this care closer to where you’re located for university.
Try and make an appointment with your new GP or specialist to see them as soon as you arrive. Even if you are doing okay, it is important to have this support system in place, in case anything happens.
Get familiar with the student support and wellbeing services on campus. Many universities have a Mental Health Adviser and some universities provide free counselling and therapy. You may be entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments’, such as extra time in exams or extensions on coursework.
There is support available, so ensure to do your research and find anything that exists to help support students during their time at university.
We explore this more in our checklist for university blog post.
4) Dealing with anxiety
If you are someone who suffers from anxiety, you are not alone. Moving to university means a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability which – whether your living with an eating disorder or not – can be anxiety-provoking.
It will take time to settle in and there will likely be moments when you feel lonely or homesick. Instead of pushing those feelings down, take proper time out to listen to your needs and process the emotions that come with it. It is actually completely normal to struggle in the transition to university. You’re not ‘failing’ at university if you’re not having a good time *all* the time.
They say that ‘to prepare is half the victory’, so by doing regular self-care and keeping yourself in a state of equilibrium, you will be more likely to respond to a challenge in a healthy way that prioritises your recovery.