What is freshers flu? (and HOW TO RECOVER from it)

What is freshers flu? (and HOW TO RECOVER from it)

What is freshers flu?

Starting university and heard about “Freshers flu”? Here’s everything you need to know about the symptoms, how to avoid it, and how to recover if you get it.

What is freshers flu?

“Freshers flu” is a term used to describe the run-down, ill feeling students commonly experience in their first few weeks of university. It is not the flu. It is usually a common cold combined with a lack of sleep, poor diet, and the upheaval of moving away from home.

Symptoms of freshers flu

Freshers flu symptoms feel a lot like the common cold. Typically they include:

  • Cough
  • Tiredness
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Runny nose
  • Upset stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Aches and pains

Extreme cases may also include shivering and fever.

These are all common symptoms shared by many illnesses. In the case of freshers flu, they are usually due to catching a cold (hard to avoid when you’re mixing with lots of new people) and various lifestyle factors associated with starting university.

Why is freshers flu a thing?

Moving to university is stressful. You say goodbye to family and friends and move somewhere new where you don’t know anybody. 

You have to pack up your possessions and leave everything else you know behind. You have to navigate an unfamiliar environment and make friends with strangers. And you have to figure out how to cook, clean, and look after yourself. That’s all physically and emotionally demanding. 

It’s not only exhausting in its own right; it lowers your immune system, which makes you vulnerable to picking up colds. Add a hectic social schedule, alcohol, and a lack of structure or routine, and you have the perfect storm for getting ill.

Of course, moving to university is exciting too. You move somewhere new, meet lots of new people, and get to socialise a lot. That means parties, alcohol, late nights, physical contact with lots of people, and possibly the exchange of bodily fluids (you know what we’re talking about).

Now, if Covid taught us one thing, it’s that being in crowds and sharing bodily fluids are two incredibly effective ways of passing germs and viruses around. 

That means Freshers Week, with its non-stop merry-go-round of social events, is the ideal environment for spreading illnesses. And illnesses like colds tend to have their own local variants. So, even if your immune system is robust, you’ll still be exposed to new cold variants, which makes you vulnerable to infection.

When you start university, your adrenaline will get you through the first few hectic days or weeks without realising the demands you’re placing on yourself.

But once that adrenaline wears off, there’s nothing to prop up your battered immune system. The parties, late nights, alcohol, being on the go non-stop, and living off takeaways all take their toll until you’re left with some combination of the symptoms listed above (plus some great memories).

So, freshers flu is kinda part of the bargain of moving away to university. Thankfully it’s rarely serious, and you shouldn’t worry if you experience any symptoms (unless they go on for weeks and start to get worse—in which case, call a doctor).

How long does freshers flu last?

A mild dose is just like a regular cold and may make you feel run-down or wiped out for 2-3 days. A typical case will last 7-10 days. And a more severe case could last around a month and include symptoms such as shivering and/or fever.

This last scenario is unlikely, but if it arises, you should make a doctor’s appointment, as you may need prescription medication like antibiotics to clear it up.

How to avoid freshers flu

Technically, you could potentially avoid it by staying in your room and avoiding people for the first few weeks of uni, but that isn’t advisable. Your first few weeks are critical for forming friendships and settling in. They’re where you make friends and memories for life, and they set you up for the rest of your time at uni. Missing out on them is a higher price to pay than catching a cold.

Still, there are things you can do to minimise your chances of catching freshers flu, or getting a bad case if you do. As it is linked to having a lowered immune system, doing things that boost yours is an excellent form of defence. Here are some self-care tips that should give you a fighting chance of avoiding illness during your first term.

Practice good hygiene

Wash your hands throughout the day, especially before eating or after being in public places where you touch things like door handles and handrails. And don’t just quickly wave your hands near a tap; wash them properly. You know the drill—work up a good lather with soap for at least 20 seconds before rinsing. (Sing the Happy Birthday song twice if it helps you go the distance.)

Take a break

Sleep is one of the foundations of good health, so commit to getting enough. While going out every night during Freshers Week may be tempting, the smart thing to do is have a night in for every two or three nights out. This will help you avoid burnout.

Make some nice food, watch a movie with your flatmates, have a night off the booze, and go to bed at a reasonable time. Yes, people will encourage you to go out every night, but set some boundaries for yourself and resist the FOMO—you can always go out the following night.

Eat well

The food you eat can either support your immune system or break it down. Opt for the former and eat clean. You don’t have to take this to the extreme, but eat at least one healthy meal each day and avoid living off processed food, snacks, and takeaways.

If your diet and cooking skills are already on point, good for you. If not, here are some simple ideas for eating healthily each day:


Avoid sugary cereals and have a bowl of fruit, bran flakes, and yoghurt instead.

Get some light protein and slow carbs in your system with scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast. Bonus points if you have a portion of veggies like avocado or tomato on the side.


Throw together a quick salad with some protein like chicken, tuna, ham, or cheese. This is a no-brainer as you don’t even have to do any cooking. Have some pasta pesto, rice, or buttered new potatoes on the side if you want some carbs.


There are so many options here. The key is not skipping your vegetables (and no, chips don’t count). Roughly chop two or three different veggies and steam them, or fry them in a little oil, flipping regularly until they start to char. Both options are simple and tasty and will accompany any dish.

Pro tip: buy a tube of garlic paste and toss your veggie in a bit of it before plating up. It’s a simple way to make boring vegetables yummier.

Stay hydrated

Avoid sugary drinks and stick with water. If you want something more exciting, drink squash or sugar-free sodas. Aim for two litres of water a day. Drink a glass when you wake up and another with each meal. Carry a water bottle about with you during the day. Put a glass of water on your bedside table before you go on a night out, then drink it and congratulate yourself for thinking ahead when you get home later.

Take a multivitamin

You can tip the odds further in your favour by taking a daily multivitamin. The best way to remember is to make it part of your routine and take it at the same time as something else you do every day, like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast (you do both daily, right?).

All these actions should help you stay healthy and get the upper hand on freshers flu, so try to build them into your lifestyle.

How to recover from freshers flu

Should you succumb to freshers flu, your best recovery aid is rest. You’ve got to let your immune system recover, and the best way to do that is to take it easy.

Don’t let FOMO get the better of you. The parties will continue after Freshers Week, and you’ll be tempted to go out even if you don’t feel well. But this will just drag you deeper into the hole. 

Instead, be patient. Rest, eat well, and keep lightly active until you feel better. Paracetamol can help, as can hot decaffeinated drinks (even if just for psychological comfort). The parties will still be there once you feel well again.

While you should try to squeeze every bit of value out of your time at university, that doesn’t mean squeezing everything you can from every hour or day. The real FOMO comes not from missing one or two nights out but from missing weeks of fun because you went too hard and burned out because you didn’t listen to your body when you needed to recover.

You’ve got to pace yourself and find a cadence that gives you a good balance between work and play, activity and recovery. Sleep, diet, exercise, and rest are all vital for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Post-Freshers self-care 

Your course will start once Freshers Week is over, so you’ll have the added workload and pressure associated with classes and assignments. These take their toll in their own way, so don’t continue trying to party at the pace you did during Freshers. Find a steady rhythm that makes everything manageable. This will minimise stress and strengthen you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

There’s no shortage of fun to be had at university but don’t neglect what matters for the sake of hedonism. You’ve got three years to enjoy yourself—don’t try to do too much in any given week, or you’ll burn out and miss out on more in the long run. Play the long game. That’s the secret of how to avoid or recover from freshers flu—and it’s the secret to getting the most out of university.

Now drink a glass of water, eat a decent meal, and go and enjoy yourself.