My university experience – Roshni Chauhan

My university experience – Roshni Chauhan

No one adequately prepares us for university. For 18 years, I followed a set timetable, ate mum-made meals, and pursued hobbies without worrying about money. And suddenly, we stumble into a complex world of responsibility. I had to navigate a new city, my finances, and maintain a healthy diet and exercise regime – which often involved giving up and ordering pizza.

This process happened to me not once, not twice, but three times.

In my first year, I moved to Sheffield University to pursue a degree in Korean studies. Like many other students, I was overwhelmed. Making friends was difficult. Would people like me? Could I reinvent myself? Who could I trust? Unfortunately, I met people that bullied and took advantage of me.

In my second year, I was whisked away on a year abroad to South Korea with little preparation; disconnected from my support network and in a country with starkly different social and academic norms. It was normal to study deep into the night, surviving on Iced Americanos and cheesecake. In fact, you were praised for it. On top of that, failure to attend classes meant potentially failing my whole degree. My coursemates and I were the only support we had, but all 25 of us were spread far across the capital city of Seoul. Making meaningful connections was a challenge, and very quickly, I felt isolated and sleep-deprived, with no way out.

Eventually, I moved back to Sheffield University to finish my degree and face another round of rebuilding my life. At this point, I’d experienced several panic attacks. The constant cycle of uprooting and re-establishing myself stripped me of my confidence; I started to fear meeting new people, and consistently second-guessed myself. Like in South Korea, I dedicated my waking life to studying, feeling guilty if I ever indulged myself with breaks or socialising. It felt like my mind was breaking down from the fear of not being productive all the time. By the end of the third year, I was losing sleep, having nightmares, and knots of anxiety constantly twisted in my stomach.

In my fourth and final year, I finally decided to seek help.

Taking the first step wasn’t easy. I attended a triage assessment with the university counselling service, which was easy to apply for but followed with a 3-4 week wait. However, it was surprisingly helpful to speak to someone. It was a relief to know that I wasn’t overreacting, and that the mental health professional could provide resources and solutions to help with my feelings of anxiety.

In no way am I a mental health expert, but I’d like to share some exercises that helped me feel better, many of which I developed myself.

Mindfulness

I decided to attend mindfulness sessions – a place to practise the skill of calming my mind in stressful situations. It sounds cheesy, (and honestly, I fell asleep in the first few sessions!) but eventually the classes started to help me untangle the knots in my stomach and ease the anxieties in my mind.

Phrases of affirmation

Again, this felt cheesy at first, but it has definitely been working. In a session with the mental health professional, I created a sequence of sentences which debunked my intrusive negative thoughts and helped me regain peace in situations that I couldn’t control;

A) This is my current situation.

B) This is what I’ve done/will do to resolve the situation as best as I can.

C) These are the things that are out of my control, and that’s OKAY.

Finding a “Happy Place”

I wanted to find a hobby that could take me away from academic and social pressures – a happy place of sorts. I was after somewhere I could dedicate time to focus on myself, stay attuned to feelings of happiness and build my confidence. For one of my friends, their happy place was attending life drawing classes. For another, it was simply listening to music.

Mine was at a Sheffield pole studio. The studio provided me with a safe space where I could form connections with open-minded people and become absorbed for a couple of hours in building strength.

Keeping a planner

I’m a very visual person, so a weekly planner worked wonders. It allowed me to give structure to my week – mapping out lectures, pole classes and social events. More importantly, it forced me to allocate time to spend relaxing by myself. This got me out of the unhealthy study habits I had adopted in South Korea. At first, I felt guilty, but slowly I understood that I deserved to have this time off, and I deserved to be easy on myself.

My time at university was an experience I’d never trade in, but it came with an onslaught of challenges for my mind. And I still have a long way to go. There are unhealthy and detrimental thought patterns that I’m yet to break down and reconstruct into happier and healthier ones. It’s a work in progress and one that I intend to put all the work into so that I’ll eventually overcome it.

No matter how difficult life at university gets, there is always help around the corner. It’s important to know there are professionals you can turn to; what matters the most is reaching out to get that help and recognising that you’re not alone.

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