Six Tips for Your First Year at University

1. Participate in orientation week.

So you just moved into residence. Excitement with a dash of nerves is at an all time high. You’re starting to meet your floor neighbours, which can be both an exciting and overwhelming moment! There’s most likely one of two things running through your head: “oh god…”, or “wow this will be a good year.” I had a mixture of both, so that’s a possibility too. Either way, participating in orientation week events is a guaranteed way of meeting some cool people who you vibe with, as well as immediately feeling like you’re a part of something at this new and exciting place. Go to orientation week events! Not only are most of them actually really fun (and even informative about your new city and school), it truly feels good to effortlessly feel involved in something right away. Also, orientation week gives you the opportunity to meet people who you otherwise might never get the chance to come across. Because the school you’re attending is most likely home to thousands of students, this is a really great opportunity to meet some of them.

2. Create a comfortable space you feel safe in.

So now O-week is coming to an end, work is piling up a little faster than expected, and the excitement with a hint of anxiety is morphing into straight up anxiety. It’s okay. Take a breath. This was never supposed to be easy. And I’m here to tell you that there are multiple ways to help ease these thoughts and feelings to allow you to do the best you can and then some. One of my main suggestions is to always ensure that your bedroom is a space you feel happy, safe, and comfortable in. I am telling you right now, decorate your room in a way that makes you feel at peace, because this space will be your little escape throughout the year. The following are some suggestions on making your room as cozy and inviting as possible:

1. Purchase a nice smelling candle or a diffuser

2. Fill your walls with stuff you like to look at. Maybe a couple posters, a nice tapestry, or pictures of family, friends, and past adventures.

3. Comfy pillows and a fluffy duvet are always worth investing in. Who doesn’t want a bed that feels like a cloud?

4. Get some low maintenance plants like succulents. Plants create better airflow in rooms, and are known to improve people’s general moods and well-being.

This little tiny room will be your escape for the entirety of the year, so making it a place you love and feel comfortable in will prove to be extremely important.

3. Keep in Touch With Your Loved Ones

Keep talking to your family (or whoever it is that knows you best and loves you unconditionally). The excitement of meeting heaps of new people, and the busyness of being a university student trying to find their place, makes it easy to lose sight of everything, and everyone, that are most important to us. In my first year at Dalhousie, I was absolutely distracted by new relationships, partying, trying to have a perfect GPA, and did I mention partying? There were so many other parts of myself that I started to neglect. It truly felt I had three purposes in life: study, party, eat, repeat…and between Thursday and Monday studying was rarely included in that. I remember one particular day in October where I felt significantly disconnected from myself. My instinct told me to call my mom. She began asking if I had been journaling, going on runs, joined any clubs…things that had been a part of me for so long up until that year. When I had to say no, no, and no, she provided me with the best possible medicine that only the closest people in your lives will bother you with: tough love. “Well no wonder you’ve been feeling like this.” Why is mom always right? Talking to my mom grounded me, helped me get two feet back on the ground and inspired me to join a sports team, start running again, and to journal more. After that, I found that calling once a week provided the perfect balance between maintaining my independence and remaining grounded in family.

4. Exercise

The main benefits of exercise will be 1) healthy body image, and 2) improved mental health. Once I started being more active, I began to realize a significant improvement in my moods, study habits, and sleeping patterns. I also gained back confidence in how I felt physically, which in turn leads to a more positive body image. Find something you enjoy (some ideas include rock climbing, running, lifting weights, swimming, walking, intramural teams, among other possibilities), choose whatever it is that makes you move. It will help keep you happy, focused, healthy, and feel more like yourself.

5. Try to get some sleep.

I was really really bad at this in first year. Like really bad. I remember feeling like I was in a dream…while I was awake…because the sleep deprivation was so real. It wasn’t until third year where I began to not only understand the importance of a good nights sleep, but discover ways to guarantee it most of the time. Here are a few things I discovered: 1. studying past 2am? Forget about it…just go to sleep. 2. haven’t made your room a comfortable safe haven yet? GET ON IT!! 3. partying four nights a week? Dial it back to three, and then maybe two. I know it’s hard to say no, but feeling a little better and well rested will make you enjoy the nights you go out more anyway. 4. Cap it at 2 coffees a day, and never after the four hour mark before you want to hit the pillow. And make it half decaf. I think I was averaging 4/day during exam time…but also 3 hours of sleep…it’s a vicious cycle let me tell you. 5. Make sure to be feeling OK before you hit the pillow. There were a number of nights where I tried to sleep directly after studying for 10 hours, and I would either be left staring at the ceiling until 4am or have weird dreams that lowered my quality of sleep. Before trying to sleep, try talking to a friend who you find calming, listening to calming music, doing some some yoga stretches, and/or journalling about your day.

6. Seek Out Mental Health Resources

If you’re going to take anything away from this article, make it this. No matter how anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, homesick, etc. you might feel, you are never alone. There are hundreds and thousands of people just like you who feel these exact same feelings. This is precisely why mental health resources at universities exist in the first place. They are here for you and I know so many incredible people who benefited heavily from getting the help they desperately needed throughout the school year. It is worth the effort to at least try it, and truly there is nothing to lose. If you have reoccurring negative thoughts and feelings that talking out with a friend or even your family can’t stop, this is a really good point to seek out an external resource. University is difficult. But it can be the best time of your life if you take proper care of yourself and find a decent balance between everything you will be juggling. You should be incredibly proud to be embarking on this journey, as it is a special one filled with triumphs and tribulations. Try your best to not become nocturnal. Quality of sleep is lower during the day, and not seeing sunlight is bad for your mental health. So a HUGE congratulations to you! All the best, The Tools Team