The Whirlwind of University - Guest Post by Oli Henshall

The combination of the educational and social elements of university can sometimes cause a whirlwind of stresses and strains, as ABS ambassador Oli Henshall has shared with us. Oli draws on his experience of studying in Cardiff to empathise with the demands of a heavy workload and a student culture that opens many doors, but can also leave students struggling to keep up with the perceived successes of their peers (and reality stars). Oli is currently Technical Associate for Powell Dobson Architects and Chair for CIAT AspirATion and reminds us that we have all the time in the world to grow and develop as a person.

"1 in 3 students have received or are currently receiving treatment for a mental health problem, an increase from last year’ (AJ Student Survey 2018).

I bet that’s quite a bit higher than you thought? It shocked me, but, when I started to mull it over, it’s not all that surprising really.

University is meant to be the best time of your life, and looking back at my time in Cardiff, it really was. However, you do forget how you actually ‘felt’ while living the student life, I now just see the end result and gloss over the tough bits.

University life is a very complex, and a tricky thing to navigate. Some students take longer than others to ‘steady the ship’ as this lifestyle opens up plenty of opportunity for anxiety and depression to surface. To dig a little deeper, if we split the university experience up slightly, into ‘education’, and ‘socialising’ you can see how the contrasting lifestyles can start to muddle the mind.

From an education point of view, for some, the pressure from families and friends to achieve what is perceived as a ‘good’ classification is a heavy load on the shoulders. The debt being accumulated, or the financial support / investment provided / not provided by family or an employer can add additional layers of stress. The pure fear of failure for some can manifest itself into all sorts of mental health issues. You can also see how this situation can start to become a bit of spiral, as the fear of failure means you don’t switch off from the studies, and choose not to socialise, opening the door to loneliness, and anxieties within social situations.

At a slight contrast to education, sits the social side of University. Social media in general is the greatest and worst invention ever made in my humble opinion. People believe everything they read and see on social media, which is almost always an ‘airbrushed’ life. Students can invest all their energy and finances into striving to be like the reality stars of today, leaving the important people (family & friends of old) and of course their ‘studies’ in second place. University, of course, opens up so many doors for opportunities and experiences, some good, some bad (such as the current drink / drug culture) which if left unregulated can lead to excess. Constantly striving to be someone you are not, combined with the financial strains and possible poor performance in their studies as a result can start a whirlwind of stresses and strains.

Mental health has been thrust into the public eye in recent years, which is great, it’s no longer taboo, and there is so much information to read and digest to make you realise that you are not alone with your troubles. Universities have also realised that they have a duty of care, and provide support to students struggling with the sort of stresses and strains outlined above, or indeed anything at all that crops up.

If I can pass on any insight or offer of support, it would be don’t panic. Look at the start of this article, you are 1 of 3! You have been thrust into what can be a very holistic and confusing lifestyle and culture, which is going to take a bit of getting used too. Talk to friends and family, they know you best, they know what makes you tick. Talk to new friends, as they are going through the same situations and lifestyle changes, they probably need to talk about things just as much as you. Talking through your concerns and worries can make a world of difference. Don’t try to be someone you are not, and don’t fall for the pressures placed upon you. University lasts 3 or 4 years, you have the world at your feet, and a career, which will hopefully span 30 or 40 years. You have all the time in the world to grow and develop as a person. The version of you at University is a snap shot of your life, but not the finished article, so don’t beat yourself up, you are not finished yet."

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