Here’s some context for you: I went to a low-achieving sixth form where I was consistently predicted AAA. The lowest I got in any mocks (the first set) was ABB. All of a sudden it’s January 2019 and I revise non stop from the Christmas holidays right up until the minutes before I was called into the exam hall, from which I came out thinking that I had done as well if not better than my last mocks (A*AA). Results day morning, my first choice of English Literature at a top 20 uni and I’m feeling confident. So, imagine my complete and utter heartbreak when on results day, I see BCC staring right back at me.
And I don’t even have the defence of the government downgraded me (which they probably would have done, if I was born a year later).
My first semester at uni was a hazy mess of anxiety and insecurity, all of which I tried to push back down with alcohol and clubbing. All the while, this one question kept throbbing at the back of my brain: Is this Imposter Syndrome?
In short, Imposter Syndrome (or how I would define it, at least) is the constant, nagging feeling that you simply do not belong somewhere, in spite of your various accolades and your actual right to be there, and the paralysing fear that eventually people are going to clock onto the fact that you do not belong there. And, with my low grades and being amongst many other students from private school backgrounds, I was so tormented by these feelings of Imposter Syndrome that I barely spoke to anybody on my course.
Moving out and starting uni is scary enough on its own, so here are some quick tips and tricks to make you feel like more grounded:
- Make your room a sanctuary – This is your space, your chance to create an environment that is comfortable, unique and most importantly, safe. Taking things from home – be it some holiday pictures, your favourite book that’s falling apart or even a cuddly toy – can sometimes make you feel more comfortable in the first couple of weeks. As the year goes on, you’ll collect more and more things with more memories attached to them. Hang up lights, tapestries, light some smelly candles (if you’re allowed!) and, for the love of God, take out your dirty cups and plates when you’re finished with them. A clean room is a happy room, and a happy room will allow you to feel more relaxed in your new surroundings.
- Find a meal (or two) that’s easy and tastes good and make that your designated comfort meal – It’s become a running joke amongst my housemates that I have the taste buds of a five year old because I stick to the foods I know I like about 85% of the time. There’s always a 90p bottle of chocolate milk in my fridge and everytime I eat at Wetherspoons’, I go for a hearty plate of sausages, chips and beans. In my poky little Halls kitchen, I always made sure I had the ingredients for tuna pasta with plenty of cheese and hot sauce, and an emergency box of fish fingers so I could whack a few in the oven when I needed just a little something. These quickly became the things I would cook for myself when I was missing home, when I felt overwhelmed or when I got some negative feedback on an easy I thought went well.
- Create a feel-good playlist for when you’re walking to, from and around campus – This will boost your mood and make you feel more positive about your day to day life at university. Use whatever music platform you fancy, name the playlist something silly and download it (if you can). Don’t worry about different genres clashing together because who else is going to hear or feel the same way about your individual feel-good playlist. Some of my essential tracks were (are): Truth Hurts by Lizzo, Baba O’Riley by The Who and It’s Tricky by Run DMC.
- Talk to your flatmates or people in your building – The simple explanation is this: you live with them, you inhabit the same space and therefore you should not only be civil with them, you should be actively friendly. Plus, the more engaged and friendly you are at home with your flatmates, the more confident you’ll feel when talking to people on your course, which can be especially intimidating if you (like me) feel like everyone else is infinitely smarter than you.
- Stop drinking when you start to feel ‘off’ – Alcohol can be great, lots of great stories start with drinking games, pre-drinks, clubs and pubs. It helps you loosen up and let go of any inhibitions, which I find particularly helpful when dancing. However (and it’s a big however) it can also make you feel absolutely awful about everything if you go too fast. Immediately stop when you feel the vibe is off because, with the influence of more drink and more people, this can make a night plummet so severely that it’ll leave you feeling less than good in the forthcoming days. Drink when you’re happy, never when you’re sad.
- Your. Work – If your Imposter Syndrome is academic related (like mine), the best way to combat it is by knowing your stuff and putting in the effort you need to feel secure about yourself and your well-earned university place. Needless to say, too much studying will make you overly stressed and cause a burnout, which is why it is important to divide up your workload. For example, on my English Literature course, I had to read a novel a week, with about ten poems and three critical essays stacked on top which felt like a mountain to get through and definitely couldn’t be done in one sitting. So, I found the best way to get through your work is to obviously schedule it into your day and settle in with a large mug of coffee and some snacks. You will feel pretty amazing if you turn up to your class, notes already made and ready to share with the group.
- Don’t neglect your passions or hobbies – University life is naturally busy and jam-packed, especially the first semester when there is so much to learn and adapt to. Over the long post-A Level summer, you have a lot of time to dedicate to your hobbies then, all of a sudden when you start uni, that time isn’t there anymore. Because I was so preoccupied with my course, I didn’t read anything for pleasure at all in my first (Covid-limited) year and was always too exhausted to write creatively, meaning a lot of weeks became a monotonous slog. If you don’t schedule in your hobbies or dedicate time to things you’re passionate about, your sense of self will weaken and leave you even more vulnerable to Imposter Syndrome. Making time for yourself is a first step to feeling better.
In the end, the only person who believes that you don’t belong is yourself. You have as much right to be at your university, on your course, as everyone else because you put in the work for it. The first semester is a mess, you have to find your feet and study and socialise all at the same time. Is it too much? Yes, of course it is but things will naturally fall into place the more time you give it.
Throughout it all, though, it is important to remember that you are more than your anxiety. You are not an Imposter.
If you are seriously worried about Imposter Syndrome and your mental health then please contact your Student Life team or your Uni GP.