By Naledi Mashishi

IT’S THAT time of the year again when wide-eyed first years, still wearing their matric jerseys, descend on Wits University campuses for the first time.

Entering university is like entering an alternate world: the buildings are bigger, the crowds are larger, and everything is seemingly much more relaxed than parents and teachers have made it sound.
You don’t have to go to school assemblies, or wear uniforms, or cheer at house events. In fact, there’s no one telling you to do anything. There’s no teacher ordering you to go to class, or calling your parents when you don’t do your work, or yelling at you for having the wrong colour hair.

When you enter university, the world is your oyster. In fact, the world is a party. You’re exposed to so many new sights and sounds and people. Societies clamour to convince you to sign up, you can queue on the library lawns to get your name printed on a coke can, and your nights are long evenings filled with dancing and drinking, with no mom back at home to tell you to be back before curfew.

But inevitably it happens. You go from getting As and Bs in high school to praying for a 50%. The “one or two” lectures you miss result in you being weeks behind your work. The late nights turn from parties to last minute 2000-word essays.

And after another unappetising meal of chips and pizza at the dining hall, all you want is to taste mom’s cooking. The excitement you felt from entering varsity turns into feelings of anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, far from your support structure, and overall sense of feeling alone. The great party turns into a hangover.

When talking about the transition from high school to university, much emphasis is often placed on the workload. In reality, one of the biggest shifts often experienced is on your mental health.

The pressure of varsity work, the knowledge that family members have sacrificed immensely for you to be able to go to university, and the alienation that comes from being in a new, unfamiliar environment surrounded by unfamiliar faces, can all play a negative role on your mental well-being. In a number of cases, this leads to anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

So how do you cope? There are a number of mechanisms students can use to keep their stress levels down and mental health in check. And drinking alcohol is not one of them. Coming up with a study strategy that allows you to keep up with your readings and school work by working consistently throughout the term, rather than leaving work until the last minute, can help reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with last minute work.

Joining one of the numerous societies on campus can help build solid friendships with new people and provide a great hobby that keeps the stress at bay.

The most important step is to ask for help. Ask your lecturers and tutors for help when you are struggling with your schoolwork. Reach out to your friends and family when you need a shoulder to cry on.
Importantly, there are a number of campus counselling facilities such as the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU). Reach out to them when you feel that you’re battling to cope.
Above all, remember that you’re not alone and that there is help available.

Honestly, you’ll be okay.