Starting college is an exciting time, but it can also bring up anxiety. Whether you are moving far from home or still living with your parents, there are new joys and challenges that will come up in this season. It is normal to be anxious about new experiences, but there are plenty of tools and strategies that can help you embrace this new chapter with confidence.
1. Create Structure for Yourself
Now that you have more freedom than you did before, and no one is holding you accountable for your time, it is important to create your own schedule for your days. It may be tempting to sleep in every day and stay up late hanging out with your friends, but if you don’t discipline yourself and manage your time well, you will face the consequences.
Create an ideal schedule for yourself based on your priorities and class schedule. Decide when your brain is the sharpest for doing homework, and then schedule social and rest time in every day as well. Keep a planner or personal calendar, and stick to your commitments.
Building structure for yourself is a great way to curb anxiety—because you know what to expect. If every day looks different and you don’t stay organized, you may fall behind in school and feel aimless, which will only cause more anxiety. Of course you can have some flexibility within your schedule, and allow yourself more freedom on the weekends, but sticking to a schedule will help both your mental wellness and school performance.
2. Get Connected
One of the best parts of college are the ample opportunities to get plugged into a community. Whether it’s a sorority or a knitting club, there is something for everyone. You may even find your dorm becomes a community of its own.
Whatever your interests are, pursue a group that is interested in the same thing. Attend campus events and meet people. Although putting yourself out there and meeting new people can be intimidating at first, remember that everyone is in the same boat. College is a fresh start.
Now is the time to pursue the people that may become your lifelong friends––it only takes a little effort for a big reward.
3. Use College Resources
Some of the perks of being enrolled in college are all the resources they have to offer––take advantage of these resources as much as you can.
For example, your professors or teaching assistants may offer office hours to students to help with projects and assignments. There may also be a tutoring center you can go to for extra help as well.
Additionally, your college may offer counseling services. If you feel you cannot cope with the anxiety you are dealing with, please utilize this resource. There is absolutely no shame in seeing a therapist, and there will most likely be no fee as they are part of the resources offered to you as a student.
4. Focus on Self-Care
College is a time to learn how to truly care for yourself. You have been used to being taken care of your whole life by your parents or caregivers, but now you are on your own. It’s time to instill good habits that will set you up for success.
Whether you have a dining hall pass or are on your own for food, make sure you are getting three healthy meals a day. That means making good choices in the dining hall and bypassing the tempting treats (except for every once in a while).
If you are cooking your own food, it doesn’t have to be fancy, but opt for using non-processed, whole foods. It may be easier to make boxed mac and cheese every night, but your body is not going to thank you.
Also make sure you are getting enough sleep. Sleep is something that seems like it can be dropped in the college years, and many people boast of pulling “all-nighters” to study, but eventually the lack of sleep will catch up with you. Try to get at least seven to eight hours a night with a consistent bedtime and waketime.
Drink plenty of water and make time in your schedule for daily exercise––even if it’s just walking to and from class. Aim for 30 minutes a day.
Finally, don’t burn yourself out with schoolwork. While you may feel pressure to be studying all the time, remember to build in some time for relaxing and having fun as well. Contrary to what you might think, this will actually enhance your academic performance.
5. Practice Good Decision-Making
With freedom comes responsibility. With so many new possibilities opened up before you, it can be harder to make the right decisions, especially when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Whereas when you were living under your parents’ roof you may not have had access to substances, in college they abound.
It’s not hard to find alcohol or drugs in college––you will be offered some at almost every party you go to. So, let's be real, it’s up to you to decide if you are going to engage in drinking or using drugs and where you are willing to draw the line. If you decide to go to parties, take some time to think and decide beforehand what your plan of action will be.
Instead of going in blind and impulsively taking whatever is offered to you, think through the implications of what could happen. Sure, it might be fun for a few hours, but the next day you are not going to feel good. And you also can’t be sure what is in something you are given and how your body is going to react to it.
This is where critical thinking comes into play. It’s easy to get swept up in the exciting party life at college, but the risks are usually greater than the rewards, which are fleeting. Of course you should enjoy yourself from time to time, but do so in a way that is safe and you will not regret it short or long-term. Stick with people you trust when you go to parties, or have your own parties that don’t involve drugs or alcohol.
The decision-making skills you develop now will either hurt or help you for the rest of your life.
You Can Do This!
Equipped with these strategies, you can go into the college years with joy and confidence. College is a brand new experience but it doesn’t have to be a scary one. Lean into the support systems you already have in place and build some new ones with the strategies above, and you will be set up for success.