First year panics: how to cope

first year panics

By Jonjo Brady,

You’re a few weeks in to your first year at university as an undergraduate. You’ve gone through the kerfuffle of moving in and having far too much fun throughout Fresher's week. It’s the weekend before lectures start, and you’re starting to feel a bit more settled with your pot of tea and your musings on how strange the last few weeks have been, when the depression sinks in as you realise that starting Monday you’re actually expected to get on with hard, proper, grown up work. This was my experience anyway! Back then as a mere fresher I would have loved for someone to tell me how on earth I would cope with university work as well as balancing a whole new lifestyle around it. So, however daunting the first year may seem, I hope that these tips would go some way in helping you to survive.

Staying in control and keep organised

The most important trick is to try not feel overwhelmed. It is too much in the nature of students, especially first year undergrads, to leave everything to the last minute, panic and then spend a manic Redbull–fuelled all-nighter by doing a half-hearted job. I’m not judging! It’s all part of the experience, but you can easily avoid this stress with some planning and good time management. Keep a diary and work your life around it. The point is not to then become a slave to your plans, for if you miss a particular task then you can always write it in for a later date, but to have all the tasks you need to do and places to be actually somewhere where you can see and play with until everything fits in and everything gets done. The greatest thing about a diary is that it relives guilt and anxiety. If you’ve planned a particular study session in for 3 to 5 next Tuesday then you don’t need to worry about that session until 3 o’clock next Tuesday. And if you’ve got some allotted time to chill for an hour or so then you can rest easy knowing that you’ll get round to doing everything you need to do later, because it’s all part of the plan right!

Taking in information

Seminar preparation is probably one of the most important tasks at university in terms of deepening your understanding of a subject and, depending on your course; you may get mega amounts of stuff to read every week. Now, it is all too common for students to feel stress at the pressure to read everything they are given, however the importance here is not ‘have I read everything’, but ‘do I understand everything?’ Very often the process of reading tasks regresses into a game of ’10 more pages to go,’ ‘6 more pages to go’ until you’re not actually taking in any information. The trick is to read as much as you feel you are comfortable with and then STOP, think about it, take a five minute break and then carry on. The most foolish of students enter a seminar having read all of the material and understanding nothing, whereas the wisest of students enter a seminar having read maybe half the material, but have understood everything they have read.

Knowing your limits

Knowing when you have had enough out of a study session is both a critical and difficult skill to master, but it will refine itself in time. The most important thing to remember is that your brain is a muscle like any other organ in your body and it will need rest from time to time. Imagine studying in the same way that you would a work out at the gym. It is unhealthy, uncomfortable and almost physically impossible to continue lifting weights or running on a treadmill for an extended length of time without taking regular breaks to recover. When you are studying this need is concealed by anxieties to finish a particular piece of work or simply enthusiasm for the subject at hand. However, it catches up with you afterwards and can often leave you feeling tired and stressed the next day and unable to face more work. The best way is to do about 70% of your limit in a day and then stop leaving time to recover for the next. Listen to your body and brain and discover when you feel the need to stop. It’s more efficient and less stressful.

The importance of play

I can’t stress this enough. University is not just about work. You’ve got a completely new chapter of your life ahead of you and it’s important that you have a little fun and experience life to its fullest. It is far too easy to get bogged down in the monotony of lectures, reading, seminars and assessments and this creates negative associations with work. So enjoy yourself, keep the balance. At the end of the day life is still life and you’ve got to live it.