So if you have read a bit about my own journey you may be aware that my first Uni experience wasn't all peachy, and in 2011 I ended up relapsing and dropping out of my first degree up in lovely Leeds! Recently I have completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at The University of Surrey (highly recommend, excuse the cheeky plug) so I decided a post on "How not to relapse whilst at Uni" would be very relevant.
I felt this was an important subject to chat about because University can be a stressful times, and trigger an array of unhealthy behaviours and mental health problemsif not managed. For those about to start University who may be more vulnerable to relapses with disordered eating, anxiety or depression, understanding how you can manage relapses and stress is integral to being able to fully immerse yourself in your Uni experience regardless of the inevitable work pressures.
I will add a little disclaimer here that whilst these things have helped my experience at Uni they may not be what is right for you.
I was in a very different mental/physical place starting this degree than I was in my first Uni experience. I had given myself time to build a solid foundation from which I had built my confidence up in my ability to manage my anorexia. Therefore I would really consider, if this is you, to not rush into a degree but if you need time out, take it! You got time....believe me!
Anywho.. without further ado here are my 6 top tips for relapse prevention at Uni:
- Know some possible triggers prior to starting.
This may involve some detective work. So sit and make a brief list of possible triggers - stress/break ups/isolation/illness - that may be a personal 'risk' for you relapsing.
- Find out what resources the University offers and pin these to each possible trigger.
It is not a weakness to go and ask for help or support, it actually shows a huge amount of independence and responsibility for your health and wellbeing - and a healthy you means a happier, more social and fun you! So make yourself known at your wellbeing centre, or use the 'stress management' workshops that they provide if/when you need them. If a trigger is isolation for you then make sure you are getting involved in a club or society that can offer you stress release, friendships and social support.
- DO NOT neglect your social life.
Be involved in your Uni - join a sport club, or society, take up a new hobby. Just anything that gives you the ability to disconnect from your work, and yourself and reconnect with others and unwind. There will never be another time in your life [probably] where you are faced with SO many opportunities and so cheaply; chances to travel, fundraise, play for a sports club, learn new languages. So whilst grades are all well and good remember that these extra things also add to your character, your identity, build life long friendships and add to the CV.
- Prioritise Food!
This is VITAL for anyone going to Uni with previous disordered eating. I don't care if inflation has made food shopping ridiculous I will find a way to make sure I am eating well, fuelling my body with food that keeps it healthy and active [...including chocolate, baking ingredients and the odd bottle of Gin...]. Just because work is full on and days can be long does not mean you skip meals. Your friends may - but maybe they didn't have a previous history of eating disorder! You can shop wisely - there are always cheaper brands and student cook books with healthy recipes! And if all else fails there's ready meals and Deliveroo. So no excuses.
- Plan your time.
Time management helps de-stress you, puts you in control, and means you will feel prepared for exams/assignments. You can factor in social events, sports, gym etc... Even plan your meals in advance so you're ahead of the game if this helps you.
- Family time.
Ok, so I come from Guildford and studied in Guildford so it made this a tad easier [...I moved out ok]. But for me, my family are my absolute rocks. And if I felt stressed/anxious and in need of a little pick me, or god forbid it some good ol' dad jokes to kick my arse into gear, I'd pick up the phone, or go home for a few nights. Now I am aware that not everyone has an amazing relationship with their family, and in this case search out the friends on your course, your lecturers who can provide some pastoral care and a good kick in the right direction. Once again I'm blessed that mine have been above and beyond incredible throughout Uni.
In summary the main gist is a) Do NOT sit back but be proactive, b) Plan and manage your time, and c) use all the social support, clubs, societies, wellbeing services you need!! We all have different thresholds for stress tolerance so just be aware of yours and the impact it's having on all levels of your health and wellbeing. You want to be able to have the best time at University so make sure you take control in a healthy way that puts your needs first. It's not selfish; it's sensible.