Coming to university can be a difficult and stressful time. There are loads of new things to try, club mailing lists to sign up to, and people to ask “Which Oxbridge college rejected you?” But along the way, it’s important to make sure that you’re taking good care of youself, not only physically, but emotionally, mentally, and financially. We’ve teamed up with Ariana Sadr-Hashemi, Mental Health Liberation Officer, to give you the low-down on how to look out for yourself.
Taking care of your mental health during freshers’ week
It’s important to remember to take care of your mental health, especially at the start of the year. As you fumble your way through the first few weeks, here are some things to bear in mind:
- The beginning of the year is going to bring some massive changes; from meeting more new people daily than you can count, to suddenly drinking copious amounts of alcohol, the last thing on anyone’s mind is their mental health. Luckily, taking care of your physical health has the bonus of also benefiting you mentally, so take advantage of Imperial’s free gym to get active – and try not to have potato waffles for every meal (check out studentrecipes.com for ideas).
- Imperial is a high-pressure environment where everyone is ridiculously smart, which makes it a perfect breeding ground for imposter syndrome. Everyone gets it at some point, and you will (like everyone else) eventually prove yourself wrong. However, if it’s affecting your studies or everyday life, don’t be embarrassed to talk to someone about it.
- You may get sick of having the ‘Name, Subject, Hall’ conversation a bazillion times a day but feel like you can’t duck out of events due to the fear of missing out. In reality, if you miss a few Freshers’ events you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to make friends, so you can afford to take time out for yourself.
- Finally, if you aren’t enjoying the Freshers’ events, that’s fine. Parties and heavy drinking aren’t for everyone and you haven’t ‘failed’ at being a university student if you don’t think it’s the ‘Best Thing Ever’ ™. There’s more to the first few weeks than nights out – if you hate them there are plenty of ways to meet people who will want to befriend you in situations with which you’re more comfortable (check out the Union Society A-Z page for some options).
That said, if you are concerned about your mental health, both in Fresher’s fortnight and throughout the year, there are a couple of things you can do. The most important thing is to register with your local GP; the counselling service at Imperial can provide basic counselling – clue’s in the name – but nothing beyond that. If you’re struggling with something that’s more than a sudden distressing event, then counselling won’t cut it and you should see a GP about your options.
It’s also important to keep in contact with your existing support networks: message old friends, call your family, and ensure that you’ve got people to talk to if you feel like you’re struggling. You can even keep a contact list of emergency services, such as the Samaritans (116 123) or Nightline (020 7631 0101), and draw up an emergency plan of who to contact in what order if you’re in a mental health crisis. The College also has information about other sources of help in the counselling section of their website.
Finally, make sure to use your support networks if you’re having difficulties. It may not be easy, but taking that first step can be the best decision you make at Imperial.
Keeping safe in the sack
So, you’re at university now, and chances are that, as well as getting a degree, you might get some action along the way. Felix is in no way qualified to give out medical advice, but here’s where you can go for help:
STI Clinic: Also known as a GUM (Genito-Urinary Medicine) clinic, or just “the clinic”, these are places where you can go along to get tested for a range of sexually transmitted infections, ensuring that you aren’t passing anything on. Most offer a drop-in service, but it’s best to check online, and ensure that this is the case. All the information you provide will be kept confidential, and you don’t need to provide them with your real name if you don’t want to. They’ll be able to answer any questions you might have in a non-judgemental, calm manner.
GP: It’s recommended that you sign up to a local GP once you’ve moved down to London for university – you can check online to see your nearest surgery. You can attend your GP to ask for contraception – both regular and emergency – as well as to get advice about any information you might need about sexual health. They will often be able to point you in the right direction if their surgery doesn’t offer what you need.
Family Planning Clinics: Similar to the STI clinic, these may have walk-in sessions, but it’s always best to check beforehand. They often offer a wide range of services, from emergency and regular contraception (including condoms), to pregnancy testing and advice about conception. Some clinics will also offer more specialised services, such as gynaecology clinics, and abortion referral, but again, it’s best to check what your nearest centre offers.
Mind on my money, money on my mind
Finances can have a bearing on so much that you do at university. Constantly worrying about where your money is going can be a source of anxiety for many students. Luckily, Felix is here with some steps you can take to cut down on spending, and places you can turn to for help:
Travel: While London is a big city, it is really very walkable. Apart from those living in Woodward Buildings, most of you in halls should be able to walk to South Kensington - just avoid walking through Hyde Park after dark. If you do need to make regular journeys, then ensure you have an 18+ student oyster card, which can save you 30% on season tickets, and consider getting a 16-25 railcard: if you connect it to your oyster card you only pay off-peak fares.
Entertainment: A lot of things in London are expensive, but getting your cultural fix needn’t be! Many theatres offer very competitively priced seats for young people, and nearly all art galleries will offer student discounts for exhibition entry. And that’s not even mentioning the museums on our doorstep, which are free (there’s a suggested donation, but the hint’s in the word: ‘suggested’). Cinemas like the BFI Southbank and the ICA also offer great prices for students.
Halls life: Before you move into halls, it’s likely that most people will take a little trip to that giant blue and yellow wonderland, IKEA. Now, I realise this might be coming too late for some of you, but really consider what you need when you load up on supplies. Hall kitchens aren’t terrible, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be cooking up any feasts, so put down the aeropress and the pie dish, and just think about getting a few pans and baking trays. You can always stock up on more if you need it, but overpack and chances are most of your equipment will remain languishing in a cupboard.
Support: For some people, despite endless budgeting, there will still be problems when it comes to meeting costs. It’s important to remember that Imperial offers a number of avenues of support, and that you should never be afraid to ask for a little extra help rather than suffer in silence. As well as a number of scholarships on offer, the Imperial Bursary can offer financial support to those with a household income of under £60,000. There’s also the Student Support Fund, which offers grants and loans to students who are struggling - they only offer them to students who apply, however, so don’t leave it until you’re on your last can of baked beans to get in touch.
Let’s get physical (and spiritual, and emotional)
Taking good care of yourself physically doesn’t necessarily mean 6am work-outs and protein diets; it’s about ensuring that you’re doing the things that make you feel good, whether that’s getting a good night’s sleep, or being able to ask for help when you need it. Here’s the Felix guide to looking after yourself:
Ethos: Here at Imperial there’s a fully equipped gym for students and staff. There’s a £40 induction fee, but that’s pocket change if you compare it to even the monthly price of a lot of private gyms in west London. As well as the gym and swimming facilities, you can purchase a monthly pass for the classes for £14.50, which lets you go to any sessions you want, ranging from yoga to spin. For a lot of people, the gym can be an intimidating place, but there’s enough on offer at Ethos for most students to find something they enjoy. There are also gyms at other campuses, like St Mary’s and Charing Cross, as well as iGym at Woodward Buildings.
Sleep: Establishing a healthy sleeping pattern is one of the most valuable things you can do as a student. Not only does being well-rested mean that your physical health improves, but it also works wonders for your mental health and concentration. We’ve all been there: you’ve crammed for an exam the night before, struggled through with a few hours of sleep, and now you can barely focus, let alone learn anything. Do yourself a favour – turn off your screens before you go to bed; avoid caffeine after lunch; and try and avoid watching TV or eating in bed. Conner Qiu, Campaigns Liberation Officer, is running a Sleep Imperial campaign this year, which launches at midday, 13 November, in the Chaplaincy.
Healthy Eating: When planning a weekly shop, most of us go for convenience and price as priorities, with nutrition falling behind. However, it’s possible to make food that is quick, cheap, and healthy – look for vegetables that are in season, which will be easier on the wallet, the environment, and your palate. Keep up a stash of fruit, so you’re never left without anything to munch on. And make sure to keep a couple of quick and healthy recipes to hand, so you can carry on looking after yourself even when you’re snowed under with lab reports.
Disability Advisory Service: When many people think of what ‘disability’ is, they think of people with physical, visible disabilities – those in wheelchairs, or who have difficulty walking. However, the definition of disability is incredibly broad, including both physical and mental spheres, and disability may be visible or non-visible. For students who believe that they may have a disability, the Disability Advisory Service (DAS) can be an invaluable source of help. As well as providing support, they are able to show students where they might be able to get more assistance – should they so need it – including catering to accommodation requests and providing assistive technology. Located in the Sherfield Building, they can easily be contacted online.