By Vicky Witts | Advice Editor
Starting university as a new student can bring many new experiences and opportunities that you might never have had before. Whether it is joining a society, trying out a sport that you have never heard of, or having a new type of food that you have never tried, there is a freedom to try vast numbers of new things as a student.
With new opportunities, however, can come feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed, meaning that you may be reluctant to go and attempt these new experiences, which in some cases can lead to pressure from your peers to participate, whether in a negative or positive way.
Taking encouragement from your flatmates and friends is often a good way to reduce any anxiety you may be feeling about a new experience. However, feeling forced by your peers so that you do something that you really do not want to do can be damaging to you and your mental health. It is therefore important that you can distinguish between positive encouragement and negative peer pressure from those around you.
Using positive encouragement to enjoy new experiences
Although there are many negative implications of peer pressure that are commonly shown throughout the media, the general idea of your peers encouraging your actions can actually help to benefit you and your university experience.
For example, in my first year there were two occasions where I was anxious about going to the Cardiff University give-it-a-go session of a sport I wanted to try, and was considering not going because I was afraid I would be the only girl going and that I would be judged for never having played before. It was one of my new flatmates who encouraged me to go by saying that she had signed us both up for the session so I had to go and that it was worth going just to try something new.
Though at the time it felt like I was being pressured to do something I thought I did not want to do, this encouragement ultimately led me to attend the sessions and enjoy myself, which I would not have done without the small amount of pressure I was given.
Your friends strongly encouraging you to go to places you are uncertain about or making you go to a restaurant that you are not sure you will like, can help you to push your boundaries and try things that you may have been previously too scared to try.
Many cases of pressure from your peers, however, are not so positive.
What is peer pressure in a university setting?
Conventional ideas of peer pressure at university are usually focused on being forced to try drugs, or drinking or generally just being pressured into situations that you do not want to be in because your peers have told you that you have to.
Peer pressure, however, does not just happen by verbally being forced or threatened, as often new students can mentally pressure themselves into situations because they feel that they have to fit in with the new people that they have met around them. For example, you may feel like you have to smoke just because your flatmates do, without them ever directly forcing you, because you want to impress them or just fit in with them.
How to avoid listening to peer pressure
Ultimately how you respond to peer pressure comes down to you simply saying yes or no to a situation, but there are some methods you can use to determine if the encouragement you are receiving from your peers is constructive or negative, as well as ways you can react in situations where you experience peer pressure.
A good way to help you evaluate your actions at university and know if you are acting by your own conscience or due to peer pressure is to talk to your friends and family at home. This can allow you to think about how you used to act before coming to university and help determine whether the people around you are influencing your actions in a positive or negative way. If you would not do what you do at university at home, it can be good to think about why not, and if you are only acting a certain way to impress your new university peers.
If it is the case that you find that you are constantly pressured by new uni friends, peers of flatmates, it can sometimes be good to distance yourself from them. Although in many cases people become good friends with their new flatmates, there is no requirement that they have to be your only friends at university, or even that you have to spend much time with them at all. If you find that within your university housing you are constantly in situations where you experience peer pressure, it may be useful to spend some time out with other friends such as within a club or sports team, as this can remove you from pressure situations.
Whether you feel that you have a strong hold on your sense of sense and morals, or know that you are more likely to succumb to peer pressure, it is important to remember that becoming a student at university is a good time to express and develop aspects of your own personality, not to act differently because of the judgement of others.