The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is part of Her Campus’s ‘Anxiety on Campus: Feeling Seen & Speaking Out’, a project dedicated to highlighting mental health and anxiety on campus.
Leading up to my freshman year, I knew that the transition into college would be a difficult one. Growing up I had switched schools a couple of times, and I had never been good with change, so I anticipated that my college transition wouldn’t be straightforward. But it quickly became clear that I wasn’t prepared to manage the anxiety I had developed over the past few years.
During high school, I realized that I was experiencing bouts of anxiety that worsened and developed more severely over the years. When it came time to go away to college I knew that my anxiety was going to be present and something I had to manage, but I was not at all prepared for how debilitating it would be and how it would go on to define my college experience. Having anxiety made it hard for me to come out of my shell and find a good group of friends, and that obstacle made me feel even more anxious that I was doing something wrong and would never have a satisfying college experience.
Today, as a senior, I do feel like I’ve found my footing and my place, but anxiety is still something I struggle to manage on a daily basis. There is no right way to deal with anxiety, but there are things you can do to help ease the transition into college as a first-year student.
- Be realistic about your expectations
You’ve heard the phrase before, and you’re bound to hear it again that “college is the best four years of your life.” This is true in so many ways: you get to live with your best friends, you have the opportunity to experience new things all the time, you get to learn about subjects that you’re passionate about, and you begin to discover the kind of person you want to be. But being in college and living on campus away from home also creates a very uniquely stressful environment. Some students transition in with ease, but for many, that transition is one of the biggest changes they’ve ever experienced. From new social circles to potentially more challenging coursework, it’s important to manage your expectations from the start.
I went into my freshman year expecting my university to immediately feel like home, and I was devastated when it didn’t. I wish that I had lowered my expectations and taken this new reality at face value. Going to live somewhere new with people you don’t know can be nerve-wracking, and it’s normal to have unease about making friends and finding your place. Do your best to accept that this big change is going to put pressure on your anxiety and that you are going to have to work to overcome it. It’s going to be hard — but you’re strong enough to handle it.
- Consider limiting social media use
This may not be the right habit for everyone, but looking back at my first year, I realized that one of the major sources of anxiety for me early on in college was watching all my friends on social media. Social media overuse can actually affect a student’s level of anxiety, so cutting back could help to curb additional feelings of anxiety.
Remember that people only post the highlights to their social media, so it’s easy to feel like you’re the only person in the world who is having trouble with this transition. Try taking a social media break, even if it’s just for a day or two, and see if it helps calm your anxiety a little bit. If taking a break from it completely seems daunting, try limiting your social media intake to specific hours during the day or when you’re in a positive mental state to manage the feelings it might bring.
- Figure out what works for your self-care
Carving out space during your day to take a break and take care of yourself, also known as self-care, can be so crucial for someone who experiences anxiety or lives with an anxiety disorder — but it’s going to look different for everyone.
“One thing I do is make it mandatory for myself to not look at any homework, studying, or emails when I eat meals,” says Jess*, a junior at West Chester University. “I often find myself feeling overwhelmed or stressed if I do work while eating so I make myself enjoy my time by watching an episode of Queer Eye or a funny Liza Koshy YouTube video. It helps give yourself little breaks in your day to help your mind breathe in my opinion.”
If you feel overwhelmed by crowds or surrounded by people on-campus, pop your headphones in and watch an episode of your favorite show. If staying in your room gives you some FOMO, plan a dinner date with your friends and talk about how the first semester is going for you.
Self-care looks different for everyone, so take the time to figure out what your mind needs to power down for a little while. Figuring this out before you even leave for school will take one more step out of your coping process and give you even the smallest leg up when you do transition. Try talking with a professional to see what form of self-care works best for you, whether that may include medication in your plan or not.
- Try to utilize on-campus resources
If you can, do some research about the services that your university provides — most campuses will have some kind of counseling center where they offer support, and there may even be some student-run resources. A good place to start looking is through your school health center; they’ll point you in the right direction and may even have someone on staff who manages mental health. You can also talk to an academic advisor for some advice and resources related to your courses.
As great as on-campus resources are, they are still largely understaffed and underresourced. My own university has a counseling center, but it can be hard to make an appointment because so many students are trying to utilize it. Some larger schools also might put a limit on how many sessions students can take advantage of.
“Deciding to go to therapy at my school counseling center was a great decision,” says Dominique, a senior at Iowa State University. “But my school only offers 10 sessions for each student because there are so many people who go there. So it’s helped, but not in the long run, because my sessions were so limited.”
The people at your on-campus resources will help you as much as they can, but if you think you may need more regular, long-term care, consider seeking counseling outside of your campus community. Lots of universities offer referral programs, where the on-campus counselor can refer you to an appropriate or more specific provider for your needs. If looking for an in-person counselor feels too daunting, there are many online resources where you can speak directly to a trained counselor, such as ULifeline and Half of Us.
- Lean on your support system
Feeling isolated is only going to exacerbate the things that are already giving you anxiety. It’s easy to justify staying in bed alone all day by saying that your anxiety is keeping you there, but while it may feel better in the moment, it can lead you to feel more alone and anxious. Surround yourself with the people who care about you, whether it be in person or over the phone. Tell them how you are feeling, and let them help you.
Avery, a junior at Breanu University, found that more contact with her friends and family made her feel much better after dealing with sickness due to mental health. “To help keep me sane and help with readjusting to the college lifestyle, I kept out of my room as much as possible,” she says. “I stayed with my best friend on-campus and called my mom every day.”
If having a dedicated community helps, try to find an on-campus organization for group support. Active Minds, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization promoting mental health for young adults, encourages students all to speak openly and comfortably about mental health with a supportive community. Active Minds is powered by a network on more than 800 high school and college campuses, in workplaces and communities, and through a wider public audience. Learn more here to see how you can mobilize your campus to change the conversation around mental health.
There are people around every corner who are rooting for you and who are there to help you through the darkest times. Accept their help and their love will help fill you up.
*Names have been changed
The information in this article does not intend to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult a trained mental health professional before making any decision regarding treatment.