Adapting to University Life
The Buzz and Business - are you an extrovert or an introvert?
We are not all extraverts. Contrary to what we seem to be taught to expect, we do not all thrive in the lively, outgoing, noisy social world that is the university party scene. Hard as it may feel at times, that is okay! Introverts are labelled shy, but as Susan Cain explains in her book Quiet, Introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation. While extroverts crave large amounts of stimulation, introverts feel at their most alive, their most switched-on and their most capable when they are in quieter, more low-key environments. Sometimes the university social scene pushes us towards noisy, stimulating environments and sometimes the long and often lonely work days lack any stimulation. It is important to understand which zone you feel most comfortable in and give yourself time and space there. The full range between Introversion and Extroversion represents the normal distribution of the population: there are lots of both kinds of people at university and plenty of activities, societies and organisations that cater for all. As an introvert you may have to search a bit harder for the things, places and people you enjoy, but with so many students at every university, you are guaranteed to be well rewarded for your efforts!
Adapting to the food-centric environment
We asked university students who had arrived at university with eating disorders for advice on how best to handle the ‘food-centric’ environment at university.
Food is a very social thing at uni and this can be a bit scary sometimes. Cooking meals with your new housemates is a great way of bonding, learning new skills and saves money too sometimes! It can be very frightening when somebody else is cooking your meal but there are lots of things you can do to reduce the anxiety so you can still join in. For example, why not go for a themed meal? In my first year, the girls wanted to cook enchiladas which I was very nervous about because I 'wasn't allowed' to eat things like cheese etc. However, on the actual night, we all got a bit carried away with the Mexican theme and dressed up in chef hats, false moustaches and tried to talk in (admittedly bad) Mexican accents. We played the dice game 'Mexican' and by the time the meal came round I was feeling a lot less anxious. Why not try Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Italian and dress up, try putting on your accents and making your own chef hats?
Eating and drinking is such a big part of university that it is impossible to avoid and is one of the things I was most anxious about. Even though it may seem very frightening, in reality it is a very enjoyable and social experience. If I knew we would be going out or cooking a group meal it would usually be discussed and decided a few days or at least several hours beforehand and during this time it helps to mentally prepare yourself for it, but instead of thinking of the worst scenario, think of the best - a new experience cooking together, discovering a new restaurant, tasting new food, talking and laughing together. Make it a memory that you want to remember because of how you had such a good time. By thinking in this way, you can really change how you feel about the whole situation and this can make you feel more prepared and relaxed so that you are able to enjoy it.
Stay in touch with old friends and remind them of how much you value their friendship
An eating disorder can make it hard to keep up a lively social life. We’ve spoken to a few young people who have had eating disorders about the impact that the eating disorder had on their social relations. It is clear from all of them that the pressure to be ‘okay’ and to ‘join in’ was powerful and often overwhelming. This is something that is worth being aware of. Can it be managed?
We asked people for their thoughts on what others did that helped them through that sense of social isolation and the desire to withdraw.
In the depths of my eating disorder, a great deal more of my time was spent living in my head than it was actually really participating in the world around me. But as much as I convinced myself I was like that because I preferred it that way, in reality my fears of being a social failure played a big part in it. It was much safer for me to isolate myself in the world of numbers and rules in my mind than it was for me to risk rejection from my peers. Often, people gave up inviting me out after the first few times I turned them down. This confirmed that I wasn’t really worth spending time with. Of course there were times when I simply couldn’t be swayed, but often just a small amount of encouragement and assurance that my presence would be really appreciated gave me the confidence to venture out of my loneliness and realise that the world was much bigger than my eating disorder.
My friends on countless occasions would invite me out to events even though I would be more like an onlooker with ED. More than anything, just knowing that I could talk to my friends whenever and about whatever gave me a warm glow of love. Those were the times I knew there was another way to live and that the day would come when ED is no longer a 'friend' and is no more than an illness that can, will, and has been beaten with the love, support and persistence of my family and friends.
One of the hardest things about being an inpatient was the fear of being forgotten by my friends. Prior to being admitted as an inpatient, I had become a recluse; the low self-esteem, depressed mood, fatigue and fear of food meant that I had gradually withdrawn from any social interactions- choosing evenings in studying alone instead of being with friends. It wasn’t that I had no interest in my friends – I was just too engrossed in the disorder; I was no longer fun loving me, only anorexia.
The social isolation was made worse when I had to stop attending school and was eventually admitted to the inpatient unit. I worried that being out of sight would mean I was out of mind; the thought of being even more outside the friendship circle made me more depressed and anxious. Whilst some friends found it too difficult to visit, my closest friends made special efforts to come to the unit bringing flowers and teddies to cheer me up. Whilst I loved them visiting, they seemed to be treading on egg shells, not wanting to say anything that would upset me. Rather than having conversations about new boyfriends, parties and changes at school, we would discuss the weather and what had been happening in the news. I would put a brave face on and pretend all was well.
One morning in the unit, I received a letter. I recognised immediately the handwriting – it was from my best friend who had visited me earlier that week. The letter, which I still have today, was a detailed and entertaining account of everything that had happened within our friendship circle- everything I had missed over the previous couple of months. At the end of the letter, she commented on how she wanted to keep me up to date with all the gossip but thought that writing would be easier. She also encouraged me to write back to let her know about all my gossip! (And of course how I was really feeling). This meant a lot to me.
Check out The Student Minds Kitchen - Written to provide you with mealtime inspiration and to equip you with the tools to plan, prepare and enjoy delicious meals each and every day. All of the recipes are prepared with a student budget in mind, so there won’t be too many fancy ingredients… but with a little ingenuity they are all thoroughly delicious and have been individually taste-tested by our team.