A Marathon, not a Sprint: Why it’s Ok to Take Things Slow Starting University

Incoming students often have high expectations for their first-year experience, partly down to the glamorisation of student life. What more important part of university is there than the infamous social life? Well, apart from the actual degree of course. Coming from a relatively small town where the cultural epicentre was a Nando’s on the high street, I was suddenly flung into this alternate world of London nightclubs and inner city living. Don’t get me wrong, I love London living. During lockdown I found that making myself a bland sandwich and throwing a ten pound note out the window was just as good as buying Pret a Manger. Whoever you are, starting uni is a shock to the system. Now in my third year, a piece of advice I often tell incoming freshers is to take things at their own pace; university is a marathon, not a sprint.

There is definitely an underlying pressure among first-years to be constantly having fun. To drink, to party, to be in this constant state of ecstasy. There is a preconception that all fresher’s events are centred around drinking; this excludes many students that don’t, or prefer not to drink. If it’s not your thing, there are many opportunities that don’t revolve around partying; on my committee, we’re trying to encourage as many alcohol-free events as possible. Events may be a little different this year, but the same principles apply: do what you feel comfortable and don’t let someone else’s definition of fun dictate your university experience.

Many insecurities and pressures faced by students are amplified by social media. It’s as if we have to put up a façade that tells the world what a great time we’re having, all while supressing any negative emotions. It’s like we’re frantically trying to portray our perfect university lives on screen through Facebook pictures and Instagram stories. It can feel like we’re supposed to perform a juggling act of having an insta-worthy social life alongside academic work; we are thousands of pounds in debt after all. Even swiping through social media and seeing pictures of our friends so called “living their best lives” is enough to trigger feelings of inadequacy. The truth is, social media is a highlight reel of life, not an accurate reflection. University life is like the course of true love: it does not run smooth and is characterised by its ups and downs. What’s shown on social media are probably the “ups”, and heavily filtered at that.

Although it may not fit with your idealised university life, it’s OK to seek help if you are struggling with your mental health. According to NUS figures, 78% of students experience a mental health problem at some point. The advice I always give is to pace yourself; look after your mental and physical health. The university experience is a journey, and it’s alright if you take it at a difference pace, or even take the road less travelled. Do what feels right for you.

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