Returning to university brings new opportunities, and new challenges. So often, new terms can give the promise of a fresh start; an opportunity to shirk off the skin of your previous procrastinating student stereotype self and emerge a productive, balanced and happy human being – in theory, at least. It is highly unlikely that upon returning to Cambridge you can completely redefine your habits and expel your anxieties, but a few simple adjustments can be invaluable for a smooth transition back into the hectic Cambridge bubble whilst looking after your mental wellbeing.
As a wizened third year with a serious case of society sign-up fever, I’ve had plenty of experience of incredibly busy Cambridge terms. That is an unavoidable consequence of the 8 week ‘bubble’, and is simultaneously one of my favourite and least favourite parts of the Bridge. Knowing this will be the case, it’s incredibly useful to buy in a supply of easy meals and essentials for when things get hectic, and to acquaint yourself with as many 5 minute microwave mug meals as possible.
If you can, try and email your supervisors and pre-arrange all your supervisions for the term. This means that you can try and space them out well and avoid any incredibly busy weeks. Some supervisors even enjoy having their students do the organising work! Another convenient tip is to have a file filled with relevant contacts and their contact details: your dos, the college nurse, your course organiser and the UCS. Having this in place will make life so much easier when you encounter a problem and need to deal with it quickly and efficiently.
As well as practical information, it is also essential to solidify your support systems. If you have a history of mental health issues, consider switching to a GP who specifically has an interest in mental health, the receptionists should be able to recommend you one. A new term is a great time to review medications and discuss your health more generally with a GP after summer, and finding a GP who is known to be experienced and skilled with helping those with mental health issues can make a huge difference.
If you’re struggling with work demands and anxious about the oncoming term, know its ok to seek help. Cambridge can be a demanding place, and directors of studies and tutors are used to helping students manage the stresses Cambridge can throw at you. Speak with your DoS and together work out a feasible plan of action for the next few weeks, which allows you to keep fairly on top of things without reaching the burn out stage.
It is also crucial to be aware of your loneliness. In my opinion, loneliness is one of the most stigmatized and ignored of issues which can sorely affect your mental health. If you have a great group of friends or are close to family at home, being severed from that can be a stressful experience. Organising a specific time for a weekly group Skype call helps you stay grounded, and means you always have something to look forward to! It may be difficult during a hectic first term, but the opportunity to catch up with the people you love most can be invaluable for your mood!
If there is a particular issue you struggle with, seek out relevant support groups. We are so lucky in Cambridge to have a number of support groups both online and around Cambridge for a wide variety of mental health-based issues. From eating disorders to trichotillomania, there are online groups for you to discuss your issues in a space of agreed anonymity and freedom from judgement. If you are a woman or non-binary person, check out ‘Self care tips group’ on Facebook, which is an excellent, mainly Cambridge-based group where people support each other on a wide range of issues, from mental health crises to bike shop recommendations.
And finally, if you want to seek help and don’t know where to turn to, Student Minds Cambridge are launching a fabulous new online Student Support Guide which provides a clear, concise and comprehensive guide to the extensive mental health support services at Cambridge, so if those tips weren’t enough, Student Minds has your back! (yes, I am on the SMC committee. No, they didn’t put me up to this, I just think the website is amazing!) Check out the Facebook page for more info.
More information about Mental Health Awareness Day can be found here.
TCS has signed The Mental Health Media Charter. More about this can be found here.