Dealing with Imposter Syndrome, FOMO, and Stress as a First-Year University Student

By Ava Ansari

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My first year of university was full of new people, places, and experiences. I don’t think there was one day that went by that I didn’t encounter something new! Although exciting, there were many times when all this ‘newness’ began to affect me; all the people I met seemed so much smarter than me, being unable to hang out with my new friends became anxiety-inducing, and I felt overwhelmed by my workload. These feelings quickly turned into imposter syndrome, fear of missing out (FOMO), and general stress. At the time it was difficult for me to put a name to these concepts, so I struggled to find ways in which to overcome them. I tried so many different strategies and eventually found the ones that worked for me, and that’s exactly what I want to share with you today! Of course, what worked for me may not work for you, but I hope that sharing the methods I used will help someone experiencing similar feelings navigate their first year of post-secondary education!

One of the first struggles I encountered in university was imposter syndrome. Many of my peers were knowledgeable about topics that extended past our class material or had more extracurricular experience than I did. I compared my knowledge and accomplishments to those of my peers and began feeling like a fraud. I wasn’t sure how to deal with these feelings, so I decided to wait them out. As it happens, that’s exactly what I needed, time. Time showed me that the strengths of my peers came with weaknesses too, and that nobody was perfect. For example, success in one course or aspect of life often came with hardships in another. Realizing that I was only comparing myself to my peers’ strengths and successes restored my faith in myself and my abilities and showed me that I deserved to be in my program just as much as anyone else. Nobody can be truly successful in every aspect of their life, so don’t be too hard on yourself!

Another struggle I encountered in my first year of university was FOMO. If I wasn’t always with my friends, I felt like I was missing out on experiences that would help us grow closer or I felt anxious about possibly being left out. So, I hung out with them as much as I could, even if I was tired or overwhelmed with schoolwork. This quickly became not only mentally, emotionally, and physically draining, but took away from time that I could’ve used to engage in healthy habits. Realizing how drained I was, I began spending more time by myself and getting back into habits like exercising and sleeping early. Not only did this energize me to spend better quality time with my friends, but also made me realize that I would always be missing out on something, because it’s impossible to always experience everything! For this reason, it’s important to prioritize doing things that make you feel happy, healthy, and fulfilled, rather than doing things solely because you don’t want to miss out on the experience.

The last thing I dealt with in first-year was stress, of course! The sheer amount of work I had to do each week was overwhelming and I initially struggled to keep up. I often looked at my long list of upcoming due dates and felt like I didn’t know how to manage my time to get everything done. Realizing that the way I was working wasn’t very effective, I devised a weekly work schedule with three tasks to do each day. On Mondays, for example, I would create notes for my physiology course in the morning, complete my weekly psychology assignment in the afternoon, and work on chemistry homework in the evening. Then, on Tuesdays, I would have three different tasks to complete. Scheduling my week like this allowed me to set goals for myself and made the number of tasks I had to complete seem more achievable. This schedule also allowed me to work more efficiently because I already had my tasks set out for the day and didn’t have to spend time figuring out what to work on. I was also able to schedule in time to engage in healthy habits, like going to the gym or relaxing, which helped make sure that I still had time to spend on myself. This schedule was one of the best things I figured out for myself in first-year, and I continue using similar schedules to this day!

I hope that reading about my experiences with imposter syndrome, FOMO, and stress helped provide some insight into what life can be like as a first-year post-secondary student. Higher education often unfortunately comes with struggles, but learning to deal with these struggles efficiently and effectively can help make your post-secondary experience as enjoyable as possible! As such, I hope that if you're facing similar issues in your first-year (or even any other year!) of higher education, you can take something away from my experiences and lessons to live your best post-secondary life!

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