How to keep sane at Cambridge
Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum
Cambridge is a hectic place and can be extremely stressful whatever you're studying and whatever year you’re in. It is often a struggle to keep on top of work, whilst maintaining some form of social and personal life.
The correct balance can be difficult to strike and this can make it harder to maintain your mental health. When you're rushed off your feet with work, as well as extra-curricular activities and FOMO about that particular Turf night, you can easily end up with very little personal time, and very little sleep.
This is particularly hard if you’re a fresher and are away from your family and home friends for the first time. You feel you need to establish a whole new social, and also support, network in very little time. Additionally, the new independence and pace of life can easily leave you feeling destabilised.
Because of all this new-found instability, you have to make sure you check in on yourself regularly – now’s the time to be even more self aware. In spite of a wider negative stigma which continues to be attached to mental illness, this is fortunately not generally the case at Cambridge. Undeniably, in all walks of life, it can be really hard to start talking about your struggles, for fear of being accused of just complaining. However, when you begin talking about it you’ll realise how many of your mates share the same worries and problems as you do. And everyone should give each other love and solidarity in getting through them.
Although it may be difficult to make yourself jump off the treadmill that is life at Cambridge, it is very important to lay aside a little time for self-care, even if this is just making your bed. Make sure you check out @makedaisychains on Instagram for some more ideas on how to get on with some ‘boring self care’. Even the small things can make you feel a lot better.
One of the things that can help is humour. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone but when you come out of a bad patch, it can be a real relief to laugh about it. Being able to look back in hindsight at what you’ve been worrying about, even if it’s no longer affecting you, helps you separate what’s anxiety and what’s real life in the future. It also puts it into perspective: being anxious enough to convince yourself that you were going to have heart failure because your bra was too tight can simply be amusing, in retrospect, something which most certainly has NOT happened to one of the authors of this article.
However, although Googling yourself into a hole of self doubt and apparent angina pectoris is laughable later on, at the time when you start to panic, it really isn’t. It’s suffocating, frightening and you think you’re going mad. In this way, it's really important to separate the intrusive things going on in your head from yourself – remember that even if you don’t feel stressed at the time you start to panic, you are in a stressful environment and it will affect you differently all the time. And, if you feel as if you’re starting to panic, it’s a good idea to: take yourself out of the situation, tell someone you trust, focus on your breathing, acknowledge everything you’re feeling as just panic and know that it will pass.
Whatever you do don’t stop doing the small things that make you happy, whether that be going for a run, painting, braiding your hair etc. etc. Instead of spending that half an hour on your phone once you get to the library before you start work, use that time to instead do something that you really enjoy. That way when you do actually get to knuckling down to get some work done, you are in the right mental place to do so. Efficient work is definitely the best kind, and the easiest way to cut down on the time you have to spend chained to the desk.
That said though, there are going to be days where its particularly hard to concentrate, and this is also okay. But if there’s a specific reason behind not getting stuff done, besides just an occasional lack of motivation, it’s a good idea to talk to someone about it, especially if its continual. It’s easy to overload yourself and find yourself having a hard time accomplishing anything, so make sure you give yourself time.
Overthinking is another thing that can easily leave you feeling stressed. Listening to music whilst working can prevent your thoughts from spiralling. If you're feeling particularly stressed before bed, going for a run helps make you tired enough to go straight to sleep when your head hits the pillow. Alternatively, indulging in mindless guilty pleasures, like watching rubbishy television (would highly recommend Celebs Go Dating) is a great way of switching off from reality for a little while.
If ever things get overwhelming, you can chat to your Tutor, College Nurse, DoS, the University Counselling Service, and even your GP. However, we know that sometimes the university’s pastoral care isn’t enough, so take advantage of the student and community-led things around the university. Welfare Officers in your JCR can also be really good people to talk to, as well as CUSU sponsored support networks, like the Self-care Tips Group, a private Facebook group for self-identifying women and non-binary people, which provides solidarity and support for anyone posting, regardless of how major or seemingly trivial their problem is.
Ultimately, your mental health and wellbeing are so much more important than any supervision. This is easy to forget in the occasionally warped atmosphere of Cambridge, but encouraging yourself to keep a firm sense of perspective throughout your time at university will prove to be invaluable.