Updated: Nov 3, 2019
As regular readers will know, last year I took the plunge and started my university adventure. I found it to be a very challenging year, but also very exciting nonetheless. The main challenges seemed to be forcing myself to get out of my comfort zone and to engage in things that had I not gone to university I could never have imagined myself doing. To me, this was one of the most challenging aspects of my life so far and I know that in the next few weeks some of you reading this will be about to embark on your university adventure (or you may be about to carry on with your adventure, like I am). So today I thought I would talk to you about the importance of not only trying to get out of your comfort zone while you are at university, but also to help you learn that it is okay for you to remain in your comfort zone when you just cannot get out of it.
While living at home (which I am planning on doing for second year), my comfort zone very much is my bedroom, and failing that my house. While I am in my room I feel incredibly safe (most of the time) and am 99.9% certain that while I am in my room nothing can happen that will hurt me. So whenever I have to get out of my comfort zone I get incredibly stressed out and depending on the reason why I have to leave my house, my anxiety can go through the roof to the point where I want to dive back under my duvet and not resurface for the foreseeable future.
Living in halls for first year was not like that. I had to get used to a whole new comfort zone, one that I was not used to and knew was only temporary. One that felt cold and did not feel as warm and welcoming or as cosy as my room at home. In that room I kind of felt trapped and that I could not leave to go into the kitchen unless there was absolutely no one else around. I tried to make it look as homely as possible but when you have furniture that is a bit bland and the curtains and carpet do not match and are not particularly nice colours, it is very difficult to feel at home and comfortable.
I think one of the things I found troubling about moving away to go to university was that you very much get thrown in at the deep end. One minute you are just chilling at home, perfectly happy and in your comfort zone; the next you are on your own in a strange environment and are unsure of what to do with yourself. So when you are someone who pretty much lives in your comfort zone and then all of a sudden you get taken out of it and have to get used to being somewhere that is the complete opposite to your home, it can be very unnerving.
I know pretty much everyone who has ever moved away from home to attend university will tell you that when they first moved into halls they were quite scared and felt quite out of place for the first couple of weeks (which is probably why freshers week is on during this time to try and stop people from feeling out of place by constantly giving them alcohol). But when you have social anxiety and would love for nothing more than to be back at home in your comfort zone but know for a fact that you cannot do that, it can cause your anxiety to go through the roof. So trying to socialise with people who you have never met before (which is something that would be way out of my comfort zone anyway), plus being in an unfamiliar environment = one big anxiety attack.
That being said, I have found that during my first year of university I have become a slightly more confident version of myself. When I was in school and sixth form, I tended to avoid eye-contact with everyone in my classes, I would try and make it look like I was writing so when the teacher asked someone a question they would not ask me, I would never talk to anyone that I was not friends with, and I would never voluntarily put my hand up and ask/answer a question. However, by the end of my first year at university I found that I was making a more active effort to make eye-contact with people (this is something I still struggle with but am wanting to improve), I was more likely to actually be listening whenever a tutor was asking a question and genuinely thinking through an answer in case I was asked, I would try and talk to the people I was sat on a table with (or sat near if I was in a lecture theatre), and I was occasionally voluntarily putting my hand up to answer questions.
In terms of the actually being in university side of things, I think going has definitely been beneficial for me as by the end of the year I was starting to come out of my shell and was actually interacting with people I was not friends with (shock, I know). However, I definitely struggled more with the halls side of things, purely because I am not used to being away from home (like most people who move away to go to university) and was living with people who are completely different to me (and in this case, opposites did NOT attract) and felt that those people in some ways restricted me from doing the things I thought I would do as a fresher. I thought I would be going out a lot and would be having lots of parties in my flat. Instead I had a lot of early(ish) nights in bed and had no parties in my flat as a couple of my flatmates did not like drinking alcohol and preferred to stay in (which is fair enough, I am also no longer that much of a fan of going out or drinking alcohol - for reasons I do not want to disclose right now). I do think that this did kind of limit my university experience as we never did anything as a flat and I felt bad if I went out because I knew I would be back really late and did not want to wake anyone up. But I also think this was also to do with me constantly wanting to live in my comfort zone and not take a step outside of it (although going to university was me getting out of my comfort zone) and I have gotten to the point where I think that if I go out anywhere then something bad is going to happen to me. But if I could go back and re-do first year and force myself to get out of my comfort zone more, believe me, I would.
If you are about to start university or are heading back for your second or third year, I do recommend that you try and force yourself to get out of your comfort zone and do things that you would never normally do. If you stay in your comfort zone then you cannot get the most out of your university experience. I get that if you have anxiety then it can be very difficult for you to do this, so do not try and force yourself to do things you normally would not too much as I have done this before and it put such a strain on my mental health and I would not recommend it. However, if there is something that you really want to do but are too scared, just do it anyway. If you absolutely hate it or have a really bad experience, then you do not have to do it again. But you never know, you could end up really enjoying yourself and having a really great time and make incredible memories that you otherwise would not have made.
So, learn to push yourself out of your comfort zone, make incredible memories, and learn to live your life with absolutely no regrets.
Love Beth xx