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Health and counselling


While it is normal to feel a little bit stressed or overwhelmed during the year, it’s also important to know when things are becoming a little bit more serious and when it’s time to ask for help. 

It is possible to experience the following at University (and even in life beyond), so be sure to look after yourself and keep an eye out for signs of the following:

Culture shock


Moving to a new country can be exciting and fascinating - but also extremely stressful.  You may be speaking English on a daily basis for the first time, and trying hard to learn Kiwi social etiquette, mannerisms and phrases. Just what exactly is “tramping” anyway?  (It’s the Kiwi word for hiking, by the way!) 

Symptoms of culture shock can include:

  • a feeling of sadness and loneliness
  • an over-concern about your health
  • headaches, pains, and allergies
  • insomnia or sleeping too much
  • feelings of anger, depression, vulnerability
  • idealizing your own culture
  • trying too hard to adapt by becoming obsessed with the new culture
  • feeling shy or insecure
  • overwhelming sense of homesickness
  • feeling lost or confused
  • questioning your decision to move to this place

These feelings may cause you to struggle with your new life in New Zealand, but there are things you can do that will help you to adjust to your new environment, such as:

  • joining a sports team or club to mix with Kiwis and make new friends
  • observing the differences between New Zealand’s culture and your home culture while also taking time to notice the similarities – you may be surprised by how many things are actually the same
  • trying new things – you may discover a new kind of food/activity that you love
  • learning to be patient with yourself – learning anything new takes time  so you may make mistakes, and that is ok – it’s all part of the process
  • keeping in contact with your family and friends at home via phone/Skype/email

If you are experiencing symptoms of culture shock that are becoming overwhelming, remember that the University Health and Counselling Service has counsellors and psychologists from a variety of cultural backgrounds available to help you overcome these issues.  

Loneliness/isolation


Loneliness is a far more common problem among young people than you may think.  Sure, we may live in the age of social media and online connections, however in a study published in 2013; it was found that young people (aged 15-19) in New Zealand reported feeling lonely more often than people aged over 300F[1].  As a new student, you may have had to move away from your hometown/country, leaving behind some or all of your school mates.  University can be a scary, lonely place, but it doesn’t need to be.  There are lots of things you can do to make new friends, for example:

  • Join a club! UoA has over 200 student clubs and societies, so you are bound to find something to match your interests – or why not try something new?
  • Say hello.  Initiating conversations with strangers may be scary, but remember, most people will be in the same boat as you.  It costs nothing to say hello to the person sitting beside you in a lecture or tutorial, and it may be the start of a new friendship.
  • Take timeout from Facebook! Yes, social media may be great for keeping in touch with friends and family, but it can also be a cause of isolation.  Instead of liking a friend’s latest status, why not send them a message and ask if they would like to go for a coffee.  Face-to-face interactions help us feel connected and therefore, less lonely.

Stress


Stress is a normal reaction to life’s pressures and it is not always a bad thing.  A small amount of stress motivates us and keeps us feeling stimulated.  However, too much stress can be a big issue for university students.  Juggling university commitments, family and friends, part-time work and hobbies can feel overwhelming.  Stress can manifest itself in a huge variety of ways for different people.  Some of the symptoms of stress (but not all) are:

  • Sleep problems/tiredness
  • Appetite changes
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Stomach ache
  • Picking up colds
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Difficulty concentrating.

These are just some of the symptoms of stress.  You may experience other symptoms.  The important thing to know is that when you feel you are getting stressed, there are lots of things you can do to help look after yourself. 

  • Try to lead a balanced lifestyle – proper nutrition, sufficient exercise and good quality sleep can all help to combat symptoms of stress.
  • Take the time to do something you love – constantly rushing between lectures, home, work and the library can leave you with very little time to just enjoy something simple like having lunch with a friend, or going for a walk in the park.  Taking the time out to do something nice can really help to recharge the batteries.
  • Attend a yoga class.  Practicing yoga can help you to reduce stress, while also giving you a workout – what’s not to like?
  • Avoid alcohol, smoking or recreational drugs.    These may help to reduce your stress in the short-term, but in the long-term they can cause you more stress and impair your ability to manage stress.
  • Look at how you manage your time – could you prioritise your time better?  Diaries, calendars, reminders etc. can all help to ensure that you make efficient use of your time and don’t end up leaving important tasks to the last minute.

If you feel as though you are getting overwhelmed by stress and would like to talk to a counsellor, please visit the University Health and Counselling Service.

Depression


Feeling down sometimes, for example after a relationship breakup is normal.  However what happens when the sadness refuses to go away, or has no obvious cause?  Depression can affect anyone at any time in their life. A person can develop depression due to a variety of factors including psychological, biological or social factors.  

If you have been experiencing some of the following symptoms on an almost daily basis over the past two weeks, you may be depressed:

  • Lack of motivation or loss of interest in daily tasks.
  • Avoiding contact with family or friends.
  • Sleeplessness or sleeping more than usual.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Suicidal thoughts or planning suicide.
  • Feeling empty or lonely.
  • Low self-esteem.

These are not the only symptoms of depression; you may experience others.  If you believe you have depression, please contact the University Health and Counselling Service (09 923 7681) to arrange some counselling sessions.  It can also help to see your GP about your symptoms.  If you believe you, or someone you know, are in immediate danger, the Mental Health Crisis 24/7 number is 0800 800 717.

Counselling FAQs


What is counselling?

Counselling enables you to explore issues that are causing you concern and impacting on your university studies. Together with the counsellor or psychologist, you can clarify goals and develop new skills, insights and strategies to deal with difficulties that you are currently facing. Counselling draws on your existing strengths and knowledge of what works for you, as well as offering a fresh perspective, as appropriate.

Is my problem important enough?

All issues are important. If whatever is worrying or distressing you is preventing you from achieving your academic goals and enjoying your life, then it is important. Addressing a problem before it gets too big is often a more effective way of dealing with difficulties.

How will talking help?

The practice of speaking about your experience is a powerful tool in helping you to make sense of what you feel.

Holding things inside can increase feelings of isolation, shame or blame. Having your experiences heard and understood by someone who has had the privilege of talking with others who have had similar experiences, can help you feel less alone and hold hope for making positive changes in your life.

Sometimes, it is a relief to realise that you are not alone and that what you are experiencing may be similar to others.

Additional resources


There are a range of additional resources available to you online.  Check them out!

  • Headspace.org.nz
    This website is for young people, and provides information on depression, anxiety and stress.
  • Students against depression
    This award-winning website is particularly relevant for tertiary students, where fellow students tell their stories of tackling depression. It is produced by the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists.
  • Mental Health Foundation
    This website provides fact sheets on all aspects of anxiety and its management, including information for family and friends.
  • CALM - Computer Assisted Learning for the Mind
    This website is provided by The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. It has tools and advice for managing depression, anxiety, stress, alcohol and drugs.