Practical strategies to cope with anxiety at university

Welcome to our Youth Talk Blog, a section dedicated to youth lived-experiences with mental health and wellbeing, with weekly blog posts from diverse young people’s perspectives. This is a positive, fun and resourceful space, showcasing young people thriving and connecting with healthful activities, resources and support. This post has been written by Anna, our Community Education intern, who is a 20-year-old psychology student.


Attending university can seem daunting, but initial anxiety can reduce once you establish routines and comfortable boundaries. Of course, you can deviate from your routine and try out different things, which is a big part of the university experience, but you need a good base to return to that will keep you productive and at ease. Knowing my routine before I got started allowed me to present myself as confident from the very beginning. All the new people I met seemed to believe that I was naturally confident. It made it much easier to maintain the feeling, as did addressing anxious thoughts about showing up at the wrong place or time and falling behind. I used several online resources to address these worries and explored my campus before university even started. Due to this, I was more focused on using what I learned than on the uncertainties ahead.

For example, I recommend reading the university website. It is an excellent resource for helping you keep track of classes and navigating campus. Start by getting all your key dates into a physical or digital calendar. The digital ones like Google Calendar can be great for making colour-coded recurring events and reminders for readings, lectures and labs. Saving assignments and exams as tasks can also allow you to see them in a list view in order of due date for easy prioritising. However, you may have to wait until you receive a course outline before adding these details.


The university website may also list each course's dates, times, and rooms to create a mock timetable. A mock timetable can help plan meals, transport, select which lab you want and address clashes. Using your mock timetable, take timed practice walks to the door of your classes the week before the semester starts. Combining practice walking with my digital calendar was really beneficial to me. I no longer needed to obsessively check my phone to see where to go and calculate what times to leave. I could look at it once and then head to wherever I needed to go with certainty, which helped me manage my anxiety better. I could trust my systems and myself to know where I needed to be. As I gained more successful experiences, I had less anxious thoughts, breaking my cycle of intrusive thoughts and checking behaviours that once felt beyond my control. If you need to take the bus, try a practice run of the stops too. You could create a document of all the arrival times you need during the week with the times you need to leave the house. I know many people who worry all day about going somewhere in the late afternoon, and this one is especially helpful for them. Ideally, aim to catch one bus earlier than the one closest to your classes in case the bus is late. Additionally, looking up the bus stop numbers and saving their webpages to your phone screen is incredibly useful for getting extremely accurate times.


If you are anxious about falling behind, look up your courses on the university website, as they may list a current or previous text that you could get for some pre-reading. Pre-reading helped me greatly when I lost family members during the university year. Not having to worry about falling behind allowed me the space to go through the natural process of grief and adjust to life after loss. It is impossible to know what might come up in your personal life during the year, so having a bit of a head start can be extremely valuable. It also helped me tackle subjects that in high school I never thought I would be capable of understanding.


During your first day on campus, ask someone if you're outside the right door for a lecture that is about to begin or when taking a seat, ask the nearest person if they mind you sitting next to them. You can even joke about your nerves to connect with others who feel the same way. As soon as the lecture starts, the pressure is off on keeping the conversation going, but next time you attend class, you may have a friendly face from the first day, which you can get to know at an easy pace. If you are in university accommodation, asking if someone could walk to the shops with you or where something is are also great options as people feel good helping others and may remember feeling that way near you.

Finally, some advice for classes:

  1. Using a bibliography website that allows you to save, search and organise references to insert into your work prevents interruptions in writing. The site will also provide templates for multiple reference styles and sources.

  2. Keep up with readings and save them in searchable format, e.g., Word and Google Docs.

  3. If unsure about emailing tutors, Google an email template.

  4. Set specific goals, e.g., a certain word count or page goal for the day. Set smaller goals the night before so you can take into account your energy levels while keeping larger fixed goals in place, like assignment due dates.

  5. Go for walks whenever you get stuck studying; next time you sit down, you may find that you are ready to go again after being stuck staring at your screen earlier.

  6. Keep on top of emails, organise things you want to keep for reference into folders and only keep things you have yet to deal with in the inbox; then, it will serve as a to-do list.

Although I still experience anxious thoughts, having this knowledge base and decided ways of doing things makes me feel capable and in control. I know that I can achieve because I have figured out what works for me.


https://www.otago.ac.nz/first-year-students/index.html

https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/new-students/

https://www.massey.ac.nz/student-life/

https://www.wgtn.ac.nz/students/new-students/student-life

https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/students/newstudents.html

https://www.lincoln.ac.nz/life-at-lincoln/starting-at-lincoln/

https://www.waikato.ac.nz/student-life/

https://www.aut.ac.nz/student-life

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