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Mental Health

How to Cope With Adjustment Disorder in College

College can be a time of intense change for students: we constantly go back and forth between home and school, switch living environments, meet new people, and adapt to a completely new schedule each semester. I often wish I was someone who didn’t feel so adverse to change, but after almost four years of college, I’ll admit that I’m still plagued by the intense stress of starting a new semester.

If you identify with feeling unnaturally overwhelmed at the beginning of a big change, you may have adjustment disorder. According to Mayo Clinic, adjustment disorder is characterized by continued emotional or behavioral reactions that can contribute to feeling anxious or depressed, often for only a short period of time. Some symptoms of this disorder include feeling overwhelmed by daily activities, having a lack of appetite, and having trouble sleeping. Depending on the situation, symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a few months.

In my experience, my adjustment disorder has never failed to follow me back to school each semester and give me intense anxiety for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Because this disorder can be very brief, it isn’t as greatly discussed in mainstream media as acute mental health disorders are. However, I would argue that it needs more recognition, because these anxious feelings are compacted into such a short period of time that they can severely impair daily functioning. Self suggests that upgrading your coping skills and emotionally preparing for stressful times are the best ways to keep this disorder at bay.

In an attempt to bring more light to adjustment disorder, I’ve compiled a list of things that have helped me cope with it over the years: 

  1. If you wake up early and immediately feel nervous, just start your day without thinking twice. Staying put may be tempting if you’d prefer to sleep in, but it will ultimately leave you ruminating on negative thoughts. If you can, start the day with some sort of physical activity to divert your attention from the anxiety as fast as possible.
  2. Listen to uplifting music throughout the day. Having anxiety can make you feel anything but chipper and positive, but listening to music that puts you in a good mood will soon help to improve your wellbeing. 
  3. Fake it till you make it. Take pride in your appearance, ask a friend to get coffee, and throw yourself wholeheartedly into your daily routine. Continue on with your life without letting the anxiety control your next move.
  4. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a heavy workload, but try to keep busy doing things that interest you. It can be daunting to jump right back into a heavy course load, so make sure that you leave time to engage in fun and liberating activities as well.
  5. Utilize your support system, whether it be your family, friends, or a therapist. It’s easy to want to withdraw from those who care about you when you feel so overwhelmed, but oftentimes, having just one positive conversation is enough to turn your whole day around.
  6. Try to eat in small increments when you have no appetite. Reassure yourself that it will come back, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Researchers have found that your brain is directly related to your gut because they are both areas of the body that contain nerve endings. This means that once your mind is calmer, your stomach will soon follow. 
  7. Take note of the times at which you feel calm, and remind yourself of them when you’re feeling anxious to assure yourself that you WILL feel better.

The one constant we can always rely on is time. Know that as each day passes, the adjustment disorder will alleviate, and you will feel like yourself again soon. Although these feelings can sometimes seem like they’re permanent, remind yourself that they will fade away as soon as you get adjusted to your new routine. Everyone operates on their own timeframe, and no matter what your feelings are, just know that they are valid. Don’t be ashamed to visit your school’s counseling center to speak to a professional, because they can help you overcome these tough feelings and improve your coping skills. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel, and you’ll soon realize that, while change can be difficult, it is necessary into growing who we were meant to be all along.


Kelsey Baum

C of C '19

Kelsey graduated from the College of Charleston in 2019 with a Communication major and an Italian Studies minor. If you would like to further delve into the depths of her mind and see what she's up to now, check out her personal blog, RawReveries.com!
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