When I first started university, I was excited and nervous. Post-secondary represented this terrifying amalgamation of epic possibilities and horrible stress. Four years of grueling education for a chance at a really interesting degree? Sign me up! I couldn't believe that I made it here. I told myself that I'd try my best.
A lot of people will tell you that first year kicks butt. And you know what? They were right, at least in my case. I don't think my anxiety has ever been as bad as in my first year. Not to say that this is the same experience for everyone, of course! I'm just here to tell you some tips that I learned on how to manage anxiety while still achieving the goals I wanted.
Accepting the Lows (and the Feedback)
It hurts a lot when things don't work out the way you want to, and university can certainly be a huge learning curve in terms of the way you study and structure your day. This advice seems basic, but I think it's an important one! Be kind to yourself. Many first-year courses will demand you to use your time well: quizzes, assignments, labs, and projects are suddenly worth more than they ever had been in high school. When something fails, acknowledge and grieve that it went wrong. Understand that it isn't the end of the world and that there's a lot to be learned from it.
You can try consulting professors, counselors, or advisors on tips to navigate education better. Analyzing why something went wrong and assessing if it is a matter of planning better, understanding the course content, or a difficulty in managing work-life balance can help you know where you should direct your next steps. Be receptive to changes you might have to make to learn course content and do your best to act on them next time!
Whenever I feel anxious, I have a huge urge to put off tasks. I know that it will only make matters worse for me in the long run, but it's hard to make your body do something it doesn't want to.
Sometimes what I like to do is put on some music. I try telling myself to do one task for 5 minutes. You'll find that starting is probably the hardest part. Once you get going, it may actually become harder to stop! Putting on music helps me "trigger" my body into telling itself that it's time to do a little work. If you practice setting up some kind of cue (e.g. scented candles, music, even a snack, turning on a lamp) every time before you start working, your body and mind will feel more inclined to do work. Section your tasks in manageable chunks and try to put out fear of consequences or failure out of your mind.
You're here, you're present, and sometimes telling yourself you CAN do this, helps.
Talking With Someone
Sometimes, it is impossible to handle things by ourselves, and that's okay. If you are feeling anxious, it may help to talk with friends, counselors, or a trusted loved one. The experience can be cathartic. Many universities also offer free counseling and academic support services that you can take advantage of. During first year, I used the counseling services from the University of Calgary. Getting to talk with someone about how overwhelmed I was actually made a difference. Don't be afraid to reach out.
Personal Expression and Closing Thoughts
You might not always have someone available to talk with though, and that's also all right! There are lots of ways to ease tension and anxiety. For myself, I like to read books and sometimes write poetry! You could go for a run, exercise, or play music if that's your thing! Taking breaks when you can is important, so don't feel selfish if you feel like you need some alone time.
Whatever your case is, believe that you are capable and that you are learning to become a better student and person. You are already amazing, so you just need to focus on being gentle with yourself and enjoying and braving through the academic highs and lows your educational journey. Good luck and love yourself!
Author: Joseph Lam
"Whatever your case is, believe that you are capable and that you are learning to become a better student and person."
Joseph opens up about his experience in becoming a first-year university student. The transition from high school and university may be a big leap for some students, but Joseph provides reassurance that you are capable of adjusting to the change of expectation.