You walk across the high school stage feeling limitless. That same feeling returns as you step foot on your college campus for the first time. You are free! Life is grand for a few days, but then you start to feel some unfamiliar things…loneliness, stress, anxiety, but also happiness. You are overwhelmed!
Why so much emotional distress, especially during the first year away from home? Everything from academic pressure to overprotective parenting to excessive engagement in social media has been blamed for the spike in anxiety and depression. Too many college students face challenges for which they are emotionally ill-equipped to handle. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. But we are here to help you feel more equipped to handle the changes and challenges you will experience as you transition to college life.
How Can I Prepare for College Life?
We do not want you to feel overwhelmed as you leave home for college. Like any big adventure, it is important to be prepared. Here are some tips to help you get ready for college before you ever leave home:
- Practice mindfulness: be self-aware of your thoughts and feelings.
- Plan for coping ahead: it’s essentially preparing yourself to be equipped to emotionally handle a certain experience. Think ahead about how to respond to triggering situations. For example, think about how you will respond to receiving a bad grade.
- Have the necessary tools: have a toolbox of strategies and things to use when you are feeling highly emotional or overwhelmed that will encourage self-soothing.
What Can I Expect to Experience at College?
When you first arrive at college, you will feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. The emotions you feel are okay…they are completely normal. Here are some or the more common ones to expect during your first year:
- Nervous: You may find yourself never wanting to crawl out of bed in the morning because you have no idea what the day is going to bring you. With a new environment, new people, and new classes, you’re bound to be nervous at some point.
- Stress/Anxious: From the endless amount of homework to getting used to your new class schedule to your professors sometimes making zero sense, stress is going to be a major emotion at college. But it’s normal. Relieve your stress by sitting back, taking deep breaths, and taking a break from your homework. Don’t push yourself. Know your limits.
- Lonely: Your first few weeks may seem easy because you haven’t been away from home too long yet, but after about a month, you may get a little sad. The adjustment has taken place. You realize you miss your family, your own bed, and your friends from home.
- Happy: Once you finally settle into school and get the hang of things, you’ll find yourself extremely happy. With the environment at your school and the amazing group of friends you have, you’ll find out why leaving college for breaks can be so difficult.
- Confident: After the first couple weeks of classes roll by, you’ll be feeling confident in completing your work, managing good grades, and balancing work and a social life.
- Eager: Although you probably went through feeling lonely, anxious, and stressed, you’re extremely eager to see what’s in store for you while you conquer your time at college.
How Can I Cope with Stress and Anxiety in College?
Stress and anxiety are a part of life, but you might experience a new level of stress and anxiety during your first year in college. In high school, we are surrounded by family and friends that support us through difficult times. But if you attend a university away from home or if your friends go to different universities, it can be difficult to cope with stress on your own. Here are a few tips on how to cope with stress while away at college.
- Surround yourself with a new support group. In college, you will have the opportunity to meet a lot of new people. You can connect with roommates or form small study groups with other students in your class. You can connect with small groups that support a cause you are passionate about or small groups that do Bible studies on campus. You can also connect with a local church and find a group that best fits you! The important part is to find a few people that you can count on for support, love, and encouragement.
- Be prepared for classes. One type of anxiety that many new college students feel is test anxiety. The best way to cope with test anxiety is to be prepared. Do not cram the night before but study over a period of time. Preparation is key to feeling confident in class and other situations. For additional strategies, check out 10 Ways to Overcome Test Anxiety.
- Attend counseling. If you are feeling extreme anxiety and distressed or if you have experienced a major trauma, check with your college for counseling programs. Most universities and community colleges offer free student support services and counseling. Seeking counseling is necessary when experiencing a crisis or extreme emotions that leave you feeling hopeless. For signs of distress or steps you should take when helping a friend in distress, read Distress: Helping a Friend.
Looking to the Future
Although you will experience new emotions and concerns during your first year, college is a wonderful season of life. You will meet new people, become more independent, and pursue your passions and dreams. Enjoy the moments and don’t let them pass too quickly.
College can be tough, and it is easier to overcome challenges, especially in the first year, when we are connected to a supportive and loving community. Whether you are attending a local community college or university, check out our campuses and our College/Young Adults Groups!