WELLBEING: Managing Illness at University

The Verse’s Rosie Pacey gives some great advice on how to manage illness when you’re at university. 

Being ill at uni can be stressful… which can make you iller… which can make you more stressed. A horrible cycle.

Sometimes it’s all too tempting to not complain, convince yourself you can make it to the seminar, not make it to the seminar, and get yourself an unauthorised absence in the process. Or, you may well make it to that seminar, but because you haven’t rested up you end up feeling rubbish for longer! Whether it’s a long-term illness, a particularly bad case of the flu, or even just a cold, here’s a student’s guide to managing your illness so it doesn’t disrupt your studies.

1. Remember to communicate

If you are feeling unwell, let your tutors know straight away – a simple email is all it takes. You don’t need a doctor’s note or ‘proof’ that you are ill (unless this is the 4th time you’ve been off for an unrelated illness in a term). Tutors are not going to doubt you; you’re paying £9000 to be here after all. Make sure you email tutors before you miss a seminar or lecture so that it doesn’t affect your grades. In cases of long-term illnesses speak to your personal tutor, as well as academic tutors, and explain your situation. You don’t necessarily need to go into too much detail if you don’t feel comfortable, just let your tutors know that you are suffering from an illness which may affect your attendance and/or performance. Once your tutors understand this they will give you some leeway and will give you an extension if you need. They may also be able to give you some extra help in terms of resources. Your tutors want you to pass and will do anything they can to help you achieve the best grade you can, but they can only do this if they know you are struggling!

Let your friends know too. Uni isn’t all about studying; when living with a long-term illness the implications it might have on your social life can cause a lot of anxiety. But don’t push yourself to stay out late when it will affect your health more than it will for others. Talk to your friends – if you aren’t able to stay out as late, or drink as much (or at all), or attend certain events, they will understand. This doesn’t mean they will stop inviting you out, they will just stop (accidentally) pressuring you to do harmful things, and you’ll all have a better time. And if your friends are as lovely as mine they’ll bring you soup when you have the flu and can’t leave your duvet long enough to go to Aldi.

2. Understand your limits

If you have a long-term illness you will come to understand when you are starting to struggle. When this happens try not to panic; sometimes your workload can seem so hectic that you think you can’t possibly take a day off to recuperate. However, not resting when it’s needed can make you feel worse and for longer, impacting your work much more than taking one day off would have done. Listen to your body, when it’s telling you that you’re doing too much, take a break! The same applies to short-term illnesses. When I was in second year, I came down with glandular fever and rather than taking time out to get better I kept going, convinced I couldn’t afford any time off. This was the worst thing I could have done, I ended up being very unwell and the glandular fever developed into medical problems which will affect me for the rest of my life. I stayed in Brighton for as long as I could but after two weeks my parents came to collect me, and it was over a month before I came back to uni. If you are unwell, take the time you need to rest and recover; missing a few weeks really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, as long as you tutor knows what is going on they will give you authorised absences and extensions. Your grades won’t be affected.

Now, this last one may seem obvious…


If you are feeling unwell get it checked out. I understand that you may be worried that it’s not as bad as you think, it will pass, or you’ll be wasting the doctors time. But it really is better safe than sorry, and doctors know this. It may be that doctors can prescribe you something to help you recover quicker, or at the very least can put your mind at rest. However, it’s important to be firm with your doctor. You know your body better than anyone else, and you know when something is wrong. I’ve had to go to doctors seven times in the past before a doctor admitted I was, in fact, ill all along. If you feel you aren’t being listened to request a different doctor, you won’t be the first to have done it. Finally, register at a doctor’s surgery before you get ill. Waiting at the walk-in centre for five hours will not improve your day when you have tonsillitis!


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The Verse Staff

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