Starting college is an exciting and nerve-racking time.
You probably have a lot of questions about what your life will look like. Who will your roommate be? What will your friends be like? Will you like your classes?
It’s completely normal and understandable to feel stressed or nervous, even if you’re also excited! Whether you’ve just started college or you’re going to soon, here are 7 tips to help you handle all this change.
1. Find college counseling info now.
Your college should have a counseling center that offers free or low-cost counseling. Find their website online and learn how to make an appointment with them now. This way, you’ll have the information on hand if or when you need it later. Asking for help can be really hard when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Knowing where and how to get help removes a big barrier to finding support if or when you need it later. If you see a therapist now and know you want to see one at college, call them now. Ask them what counseling looks like there, how to make your first appointment, and what else they need from you.
2. Practice checking in with yourself.
When you’re busy with classes, work and other activities, it’s easy to not realize you’re stressed or anxious until that emotion becomes overwhelming or paralyzing. Keep that from happening by regularly checking in with yourself. This way, you can name what you’re feeling when that emotion is still manageable.
At least once a day, take a moment to pay attention to your body and how you’re feeling. Are you clenching your jaw, hunching your shoulders, or tense in a different way? Are you feeling distracted or “out of it”? Is there a nagging worry or thought at the back of your mind? Take a moment to release that tension, pinpoint why you’re feeling the way you are, and make a plan to deal with it.
3. Learn (and use) relaxation techniques.
Everyone has different ways they like to de-stress or relax at the end of the day. Maybe you like to drink a cup of green tea before bed, or take a long shower, or talk with a friend. Think about what makes you feel calm and good in your body. Write down that technique in a journal, or on a sticky note and pin it by your desk, bed or mirror as a reminder.
In addition to thinking about ways that you already cope with stress, learn at least one new one like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or imagining yourself in a place you feel safe and at ease. Take a look at this worksheet for more ideas and step-by-step how-to’s.
4. Think of activities that you enjoy and make you feel good.
You may not realize it, but you already have coping skills for dealing with stress. Take a moment to create a list of what you do when things feel stressful or overwhelming. Build these activities into your life, so you have activities to look forward to. Do you…
- Go for a walk?
- Exercise or play a sport?
- Draw or color?
- Talk to friends?
- Watch TV?
- Play video games?
Keep in mind that some coping skills can end up being more destructive than useful. If you find yourself skipping class to binge watch TV or play video games, or use alcohol, marijuana, e-cigarettes or other drugs to deal with stress, it’s time to find a different, healthier coping mechanism. Talk to someone you trust about what you’re going through, or reach out to your college’s counseling center.
5. Build a support network.
At home, you may have a built-in support network already: your family, neighbors, teachers and friends you’ve known since you were little. At college (especially if you’re leaving home), this group isn’t built in to your life in the way they may have been before. Instead, you’ll have to make a purposeful effort to build a support network you can turn to when times are tough.
It may take a bit of time to find people you connect with and trust, and that’s ok! Think about professors, counselors, RAs and friends you know you can count on. Keep a list in a journal or on your phone, as a reminder that you are not alone.
6. Use coping statements.
Coping statements, or affirmations, can be great tools for getting through a rough moment or just reminding yourself that you’re a loveable, capable human. Find a few that work for you, and write them down on a small card you can keep in your wallet or pocket. When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take a look at your coping card and repeat your coping statement to yourself.
Check out tips for writing your coping statements and sample statements for anxiety, anger management, disordered eating and more here.
7. Ask for help when you need it.
College is a time when you’re learning to be independent and take more responsibility for yourself. Sometimes, it’s easy to think that you need to have all the answers, or be able to do everything on your own. But that’s not the case. Everyone needs help sometimes! It’s actually a sign of maturity to ask for help when you need it.
In addition to the tips above, don’t forget that your physical health has a huge impact on your mental health and ability to manage stress. It can be hard, but try to prioritize getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise!
If you need immediate help or support or have a friend who’s struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC, get comprehensive, nonjudgmental health care at no cost to you at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. Call (212) 423-3000 for an appointment.
Nicole Nadell, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist and supervising psychologist at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center and an Assistant Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai with specialization in family violence and trauma. Dr. Nadell completed specialized postgraduate training and supervision at Ackerman Institute for the Family and specializes in family therapy. Dr. Nadell’s clinical specialties include severe psychopathology in adolescents and young adults, family therapy, trauma, and relationship/interpersonal issues. She uses an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates an empathic, practical, playful and relational approach to psychotherapy with youth and their families.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 12,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.