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Surviving your first year of uni

Monday 12 February 2018

A group of young students stand outside their university, holding textbooks.
Taking care of yourself while you're at uni can help you reach your potential in learning and also enjoy your time studying.

Your first year of university is an exciting time. If you’re starting uni this year, or going back after a break, there’s a lot of change and opportunity coming your way.

While you’re focusing on learning a whole bunch of new stuff about your subjects and yourself, we’ve got some tips for staying healthy and happy throughout your first year.

Take advantage of uni services

A lot of universities offer services to help you stay healthy while you’re studying. Whether that’s discounted rates at the uni gym or access to free or cheap health services, explore what’s on offer at your campus and use your first year to cement healthy habits that will see you through your study.

Even if you’re not studying on campus, your uni student card or International Student Identity Card can get you discounts on a lot of services, including gyms and fitness groups, and health services like optometrists. Take advantage of these discounts while you can to keep yourself in top shape.

Surviving stress

Studying can be stressful, especially if you’ve got other commitments like a job or looking after family to keep on top of at the same time. Experiencing some stress while you’re at uni might be expected, but it’s important to remember that ongoing stress isn’t okay and to learn how to tell when stress gets unhealthy.

Stress can be useful when motivating you to finish all your readings before your tute, but ongoing stress isn’t healthy for your body or mind. Read these tips about managing stress and recognising the different emotional, psychological and physical symptoms of stress.

If stress has been making you feel unwell for two weeks or more, it’s time to see someone about it. Visit your university’s medical or student support services, or a GP, for help managing stress.

A student lies their head on their desk, empty coffee cups and books strewn around them.

Mental health more generally

Being mentally well allows you to work to your full potential, something you really want once you’ve dedicated yourself to study. If you want to take looking after your mental wellbeing up a notch, we’ve put together a guide to help you prioritise your mental health throughout the year.

It’s important to know that there are professionals and resources to help you if you’re not feeling mentally well. Most universities offer services to assist students with mental health care if they’re not well, and often at a discounted rate or for free. This can cover everything from medical assistance with mental illnesses, to counselling and support services, or help managing your study commitments if you need extra time or assistance.

Signs it’s time to seek professional help include:

  • you’ve been feeling sad, down, angry, depressed, numb or generally ‘not yourself’ all the time, for two weeks or more
  • the way you’re feeling is affecting your ability to cope with study, work or in your relationships.

Take advantage of these services when you need them, and check in with your student centre if you’re not sure what services you have access to.

Get savvy about your sexual health

There’s nothing like an unexpected STI to distract you from your books. If you’re sexually active, or thinking about becoming sexually active, now’s the time to get on top of your sexual health.

We’ve broken everything you need to know down in our Ultimate Guide to Sexual Health. If you’ve opened that tab and put it in the tl;dr category, here are the major things you need to know:

  • it is recommended that you use protection to prevent getting or spreading sexually transmissible infections every time you have any kind of sex (that includes vaginal, anal and oral sex)
  • protection from STIs is different to contraception, which prevents pregnancy
  • the only type of protection that protects against STIs and unwanted pregnancies are condoms, so use them and use them properly
  • before you have sex, brush up on what consent means and how to be sure someone wants to have sex with you.

A row of colourful condoms is pegged onto a string.

Sexual health checks

If you’re sexually active, you should have a sexual health check at least once a year, or when you’ve had sex without a condom with new or casual partners. Most STIs don’t have symptoms, so people often don’t know they have an infection and can pass it on to their sexual partners for many months. You don’t need to be experiencing any symptoms or feel unwell to ask for a sexual health check.

Universities often have services where you can receive a sexual health check on campus, or you can book a sexual health check with your GP, at a sexual health clinic, Aboriginal Medical Service or through clinics like True Relationships & Reproductive Health (you might know True by their old name, Family Planning Queensland).

Free chlamydia and gonorrhoea tests

Queensland residents who are older than 16 can now order a free chlamydia and gonorrhoea urine test online, through the 13 HEALTH webtest program.

The test is quick and easy to do: if you request a home mailing kit be sent to you, you can collect a urine sample on a swab and mailing it in for analysis. You can also download a pathology request form and take it to any QML Pathology, Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology (SNP), Mater Pathology or public hospital pathology (Pathology Queensland) collection centre, where you’ll be asked to pee in a jar for the test to be performed.

This service is free and confidential and you will be contacted by the team at 13 HEALTH about your results. This test doesn’t replace a sexual health check, but is a good way to test for two really common STIs in-between appointments.

Learn about vaccinations

Each year from about April, the influenza vaccine becomes available in Australia. The flu can really knock you around, so it’s worth considering becoming vaccinated to protect yourself from illness affecting your study. Check with your doctor or health provider.

Currently, all Queenslanders aged 15 to 19 years can access the meningococcal ACWY vaccination for free from their doctor or immunisation provider. If you’re in this age bracket, receiving this vaccine can protect you from this very serious, and possibly deadly, disease.

Get to know nutrition

When many of us think ‘uni food’ we think things like cheap noodles, discount pizza and boxed wine. Even though this fare might seem easy on the wallet and require little preparation, it won’t usually be very nutritious. Eating poorly can come at a cost if it impacts on your overall health, which in turn might hamper your efforts to succeed at studying.

Take a little time to get familiar with Nutrition 101, learn some basic cooking skills if you don’t already know how, and find out how meal planning and cooking healthy recipes at home can not only help you stay well, but fit within your budget, too.

People sit in a circle outside, we see their hands reaching in to the centre with cups of colourful liquids to cheers.

Get your party on, but look after yourself, too

No one expects students to study 100% of the time, and uni can be filled with great opportunities to relax and let off some steam. But having fun doesn’t have to come at the expense of your health.

Read our guide about staying healthy at festivals and check out recipes for quick and healthy party snacks. Follow these tips to stay safe while you’re drinking alcohol, and if you’re under 20, read up on how alcohol can affect your still developing brain.

If you smoke there has never been a better time to quit, with most Queensland universities going to smoke-free this year. Quitting can be hard, but there are a lot of resources to help you stop smoking available online and in person.  You can also check with you student services to find out what other quit smoking support your university provides.  

Learn about the risks of illicit drug use, and find out where you can get help on campus or off campus if you or someone you know needs assistance after drug use or treatment for addiction.

Last updated: 13 February 2018