You’ve raided Bed Bath and Beyond, the car is packed up, and you’re ready to take the first step toward your future and adult life. Going away to college can bring on a mix of emotions. It can be one of the most exciting times as you step into a world full of adventure, freedom, new experiences, and self-discovery- and it can also be extremely stressful and make you feel like your world has turned upside down.
You are now living in a tiny room with someone you don’t know very well. That’s on top of figuring out how to navigate your class schedule; meeting new friends; figuring out where and when and what to eat; oh yeah, and fighting back tears 24/7. There’s a lot of intense stuff happening as a college freshman, and it can leaving you feeling totally overwhelmed.
What you’re feeling is not only TOTALLY normal, but it will get better- and there are some things you can do for yourself during your first few weeks to help you feel more calm, in control, and confident.
- Take control of your routine. Get a planner and chart out your weekly schedule, including the following: class schedule, work schedule, wake up times, and lunch times. It also might be helpful to scan your emails and write down any events going on on campus the first week that you would like to attend. To make things more fun, use gel pens, bright colored highlighters, or even chose an inspirational quote or two to write along the edges. Make two copies: one to hang up in your dorm, and one to keep with you in a planner or notebook.
- Explore the resources you have available to you on campus. What’s awesome about a college campus is that there is always someone available to help you with whatever you need. It’s a good idea to make a list of all of these key people, including where to find them, their emails, and phone numbers. That way if you’re in a bind, you can easily access them. Everyone knows that it’s hard being a freshman, and they are totally familiar with students in tears showing up to their door. They are here to help you and will honestly make your life a lot easier if you reach out to them. Here a few people you should include on your list: your adviser, the health center, the counseling center, and financial aid.
- Keep your door open. One of the best ways to meet people is in your dorm. Don’t be shy about stopping in other people’s rooms on your floor and leave your door open too so that people can pop in. Chances are, everyone on your floor is also feeling stressed out and scared, and one of the best ways to work through this is to make connections and figure things out together. Say yes to the movie nights, homework dates at the library, and getting lunch. Remember that everyone feels the same way that you do, and that you’re in it together.
- Let yourself feel your feels, and write about it. Journaling is a good way to center yourself and let emotions drain off. Traditional pen to paper has some evidence that supports the physical act of writing as being cathartic. If you’re more into using your phone for this, there is a really cool app called Sanvello that allows you to chart your mood every day, journal, do guided meditations, read inspirational quotes, and practice gratitude. This can be a great way to tune into your feelings rather than pushing them down.
- Take care of your body. It can be easy to lose sight of simple things when you’re stressed and trying to stay afloat. Getting in the habit of eating three healthy meals a day and hydrating can put your body and mind in a better position to handle stress. Get a big water bottle that you bring to class with you and refill a few times a day. Don’t skip breakfast- even just eating a bowl of oatmeal or banana can set your day off on the right foot. There might be a lot that feels like it’s out of your control right now, but you can control taking care of yourself.
- Get familiar with the fitness center. Exercise is a great way to combat stress. It releases endorphins, reduces stress hormones, and clears your mind. Even just going for a walk on the tread mill for 30 minutes a few times per week can be a great gift to yourself. Or, if you prefer, grab your headphones and throw on your sneakers as you take a big loop around campus and blast your favorite music while you do it.
- Establish a nighttime ritual. Sleep can be really evasive when you are sleeping in a new place. Try to get in the habit of going to bed at the same time. One really helpful way to wind down is to listen to one of the increasingly popular “Sleep Stories” on the “Calm App.” You can choose from hundreds of stories that can help you drift off to sleep. You might also like to invest in a pair of earplugs and an eye mask if you dorm is particularly loud or bright.
- Talk to someone. Visit the college counseling center or research therapists in your area on Psychology Today. There are a lot of counselors who specialize in working with college students who are going through exactly what you are. Not having your parents with you is hard, and having the support of a therapist can be a huge relief. Even if you just need to go and have a good cry once a week, that’s what your therapist is there for- and it can make you feel a whole lot better. If you don’t have a car, many therapists also offer video sessions so you can chat with them in the comfort of your dorm.
- Remember how strong and resilient you really are. Make a list of other times you did something really hard that you didn’t think you could do. It could be another time that you went through a difficult experience in high school or within your family. Or it might be sports related, like that impossible goal you made. You’ve done hard things before, and you can do it again.
- Trust that it’s all going to be okay. It is NORMAL to be scared to death. Some days you might feel really excited, and other days you might just want to sob into your pillow. What you’re going through is a massive change, and it’s hard. Remember that this is to be expected- and the good news is, if you take care of yourself, make connections, and reach out for help, it will all get easier over time. You’ve got this!
If you do find yourself needing some extra support and someone to talk to, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about setting up a therapy appointment (in person or video, if you’re in NYS).
Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.Christian Larson