Fall is a time of great excitement that includes cooler weather, bonfires, football games, and social gatherings. For many, this time of year is also when millions of young adults take a great leap in their academic career from high school to college, which often includes leaving home and embarking on a path to self-discovery. Graduation marks the beginning of a transition period, which can be difficult. As with any transition, there can be accompanied stress, which may lead to feelings of uncertainty or doubt. These feelings can follow the aspiring student to college and disrupt the experience. Young adults may develop persistent anxiety and depression that make the college experience less positive and fulfilling.
While some may have higher levels of anxiety or depression at this time in their life than others, there is good news. There are ways to manage or minimize this stress. Studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in helping treat depression and anxiety. In addition to therapy, Thriveworks therapist Collin Davies, LPE, has developed a list of helpful suggestions for new college students who are having difficulty adjusting to college. Try these tips each day, which may help improve your college experience.
1. Maintain a healthy diet.
Eat balanced meals and do not skip breakfast. An increasing amount of research supports the idea that there is a link between physical and mental/emotional health. Many clinicians promote an integrative approach to mental health care, one that takes diet and lifestyle factors (i.e., exercise/activity, sleep) into consideration.
2. Get plenty of rest.
College is chock-full of paper deadlines, extracurricular activities, and the stress associated with living away from home for the first time, all of which can contribute to poor sleep. The minimum recommended amount of sleep nightly is seven hours. How much sleep are you averaging? Develop a nightly routine that includes relaxation before bed (“wind down” with a TV program, take a hot bath or shower, or read a book for pleasure). Poor sleeping habits can contribute to decreased focus, less energy, and increased depression. These stressors can make adjusting to college life even more difficult.
3. Take an active role in your education.
Get to know your professors, study the course outlines, ask questions, and attend class. If you are more engaged in your academic career from the beginning, this will help you maintain a more positive attitude about your studies from the very beginning and will likely result in greater academic success.
4. Live on campus and get involved.
Those who live on campus are within walking distance to almost everything, including classes, social events, and football games. Some studies suggest they are safer than those who live off campus, due to their close proximity to the campus police department. Students who live on campus are more available for school functions and tend to avoid parking problems experienced by those who commute. Those who live at home and commute often have less time to attend social functions and miss out on daily campus life.
5. Get out there! Be social.
College is a prime opportunity to expand your social circle. Consider joining a campus club or organization or maybe pledging a fraternity or sorority. Get to know your roommate and your neighbors down the hall, form study groups, and make new friends.
6. Form a strong relationship with your academic advisor.
Many college students who take an active role in their education from the beginning tend to complete degree requirements and graduate on time.
7. Do not fret if you haven’t declared a major.
Consider being “undeclared” for the first year until you have taken several general education courses. Starting college without knowing what to study helps you to be more open to new experiences and allows you to try new things. Consider taking one “fun” course each semester (or as your schedule allows), which will help you to explore a variety of subjects. It also can help make learning more fun. When you give yourself time to focus on your interests, you are more likely to select an enjoyable major later on down the road.
8. Practice good self-care.
Schedule some “down time.” Studies show that the relaxation benefits you may receive from self-care activities can help prevent chronic stress from damaging your physical health. Those who fail to nurture themselves tend to have higher levels of unhappiness and lower self-esteem. Self-care activities can also deter you from using drugs and alcohol to cope with stress or from self-medicating to treat underlying mental health conditions.
9. Maintain a balance between your “old” and “new” relationships.
Remember that it is okay to keep relationships with family and friends back home. Living in today’s high tech world with cell phones and social media, it is easy to stay connected to family and friends. Phone, text, write, e-mail or even travel back home to visit a couple of times per semester, but challenge yourself to become immersed in your new environment. Explore your college campus and new town. Meet new people and form new friendships. These activities can help ease the transition from high school to college.
It is common to have anxiety or to feel a bit sad when you leave your hometown and start college. These feelings may even persist a few weeks into the semester. While this is a normal experience for many, if your anxiety or depression continues to negatively impact your quality of life (if it
continues to affect your mental, emotional, and physical well-being), consider reaching out to a qualified professional to help you get back on track.
Call Thriveworks today to see if Collin can help you overcome the “back to school blues.” He enjoys working with those who experience anxiety and depression related to life adjustments, like starting college. Appointments are available within 24 hours, on weekends, and in the evenings.