How to deal with being ill at university
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How to deal with being ill at university

Jennifer Prince January 13, 2022

There is no sugar-coating it, feeling ill at university is rubbish. Well, it is just like being unwell at home, except now you have to look after yourself. Urghh! Not feeling completely yourself can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you are unable to go about student life as normal. Lucky for you, this article exists to help you out.

Whether it is a hangover, freshers flu, or something else, you will be back on your feet in no time.

First of all

Quick tip: If you are currently ill reading this, skip to the next section and get well soon!

Let’s face it, everyone is going to have days during their degree when they are not feeling great. And no, I don’t just mean because that 9am class is way too early. The social aspect of a university lifestyle, and the fact that most people are living in shared accommodation, means that illness often spreads much quicker than usual.

Therefore, it is important to register for a local GP right at the beginning of university. It is no use being registered miles away at home when you need to book a doctor’s appointment in the middle of term. Familiarising yourself with the nearest pharmacy is also a good idea for when you need over-the-counter medical advice/treatment without an appointment, or to pick up a prescription.

Another easy recommendation is to buy a few essentials just in case of mild illnesses like a cold. Things like paracetamol, ibuprofen, tissues, plasters, and a hot water bottle seem simple, but are easily forgotten and a lifesaver on an off-day. Thank me later for that one!

If you are unwell

As silly as it sounds, it is important to recognise when you feel ill so you can rest or seek medical advice. To quote my own mum: ‘Stop burning the candle at both ends’ (translation: doing more than you should). Although the fear of missing out is real, try not to soldier through being poorly. You will likely just end up missing out on more and feeling ill for longer.

If you do not yet have a job, this may be the only opportunity – before retirement – to take a day off when needed and not have to explain it to anyone. Grab that chance and choose the day off in bed to recover; just do not make a habit of it. You might as well order a takeaway while you’re at it. Not cooking counts as resting, I promise.

In essence, do not be afraid to miss out on a day of lectures, seminars, or a social event. Everyone will understand, and you will be able to catch up with any work missed by watching a lecture recording, emailing your tutor for the missed work, or asking a friend for the notes. You will probably end up returning the favour.

To boost your mood, be sure to reach out to family and friends. They sometimes know you better than you know yourself and are always happy to help you feel less rubbish or bored. When I am ill, I always ring home just to have a nice chat with my family. Among their well-wishes and endless advice, I somehow always get told to make a mug of hot water, honey and lemon juice to soothe a sore throat. I still have no clue what it is about that mixture. But it works like magic.

Housemates, especially, can be saints in a student’s disguise. Even if it is just picking up something from the shop or sending a quick message to check you’re okay – your friends have your back.

Of course, if your symptoms are more than mild, book a GP appointment or go to a walk-in centre or pharmacy as soon as possible to be seen by a doctor and given appropriate treatment or advice. In more serious cases, or at unsociable hours, call 111 for medical advice or 999 in an emergency.

What might not be as obvious is how to access help from your university institution if you are ill for a prolonged period. Welfare officers, student mentors and personal academic tutors are the best people to contact if you are unsure where to find help. University welfare services are able to provide extensions to academic work and additional support, so your work is not affected by something out of your control. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it!

Looking after mental health

So far, this article has focused on maintaining physical health. But mental health is just as important.

University can be portrayed as the best time of your life, but this is not true all the time. It is normal so struggle for various reasons, and universities offer support for mental health as well as physical health.

In the previous section, I spoke about utilising the support network of friends, family and your university, asking for help when needed, and prioritising your health. These things apply to mental health just as much as physical health. Below are some useful websites for anyone that may need them.

  • Mind, phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm). Website:
  • PAPYRUS, Young suicide prevention society, phone: HOPElineUK 0800 068 4141 (Monday-
    Friday, 10am-5pm and 2pm-5pm on weekends), website:
  • Samaritans, confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair,
    phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline), Website:
  • CALM, Campaign Against Living Miserably, phone: 0800 58 58 58 (5pm-midnight, every day),

See also: The mental toll of the new age of Zoom on university students

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Jennifer is a Manchester-based freelance journalist and has been writing for Freshered since its launch in November 2021. She graduated in December 2022 from The University of Birmingham with a BA (Hons) degree in English Literature, where she spent much of her time writing and reporting for Redbrick Newspaper. A lover of variety, Jennifer covers topics ranging from university advice, live music and theatre reviews, to news and current events, but seeks to expand her work to cover sustainability and the climate crisis. Her aim is to make journalism more accessible to the everyday reader. As a GirlGuiding Volunteer in her spare time, Jennifer is never one to be boring. When she’s not writing she can often be found with her head in a book, trying a new craft, or on the dancefloor.