College Anxiety

The countdown to college begins. Many students will be moving into their dorms in a month. Exciting and yet scary! The transition to college involves a lot of moving parts, especially when young people are moving out of their parent’s home for the first time. Living with two students who will be transitioning to college in the fall, I can relate to the statement “Adulting is hard…and it’s expensive!” Yes, it is!

The increased demands of college life can feel overwhelming, combined with the expectations of adult responsibilities and social pressures. Many clients often identify the onset of significant stressors impacting mental health in college. Anxiety is one of the most common concerns; the anticipation of unknowns is huge. Will I make friends? Will I succeed in college? It can feel good to know that you are not alone. Many others are having similar experiences. Your fears are valid.

There may be difficulties navigating relationships– saying goodbye to childhood friends, making new friends, and experiencing the joys and heartbreaks in dating/ intimacy. Then there is also the parent-child relationship as both redefine what this looks like as adults. Social challenges can bring up a variety of emotions. Initiating conversation with a classmate or joining social outings can provoke feelings of anxiety, especially for students who experience social-anxiety. Trauma can also have a significant impact on interpersonal relationships.

For students who have received special education in high school, it can feel intimidating to advocate by speaking up in college. While there is no IEP in college, there are accommodations available as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); however, students take on the responsibility to seek out services. Talking to a professor to clarify an assignment or initiating a conversation about your educational needs can be difficult, especially where there are neurodevelopmental concerns such as attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder (ADHD). Students may have scattered developmental skills, such as individuals on the autism-spectrum. For example, students may excel in one area such as academics but struggle in another such as social interactions or excel in calculus but struggle in money management. Students with “invisible-illness” may feel misunderstood by their peers.

Executive-function and self-regulation skills are required. There is a lot of planning ahead, as well as time management and organization for all aspects of college life. This includes course registration, tuition payments, assignment completion, and balancing work/ school and social life. The pressures can contribute to breakdowns in mental health. In addition to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation; disordered eating and substance use are especially prevalent among college students.

As part of managing anxiety with the upcoming transition to college, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Get into a healthy routine to include good self-care
Starting daily habits now that promote balance with sleep, eating, and exercise are so important. Healthy routine sets a good foundation to help with emotional regulation.

Take steps to acquire necessary life skills
If the thought of doing laundry, cooking, or cleaning stresses you out because you have never done it before, now is the time to learn these skills. Same thing with managing a budget, using a planner, learning social skills, or coping strategies for mental health. If you have never made your own appointments, now is a great time to take control.

Connect with others before school starts
Take advantage of opportunities such as orientation, meet and greets, etc. Meet your roommates beforehand, even if this is virtual. Being familiar with your surrounding will help ease anxiety with the transition.

Seek out support
No one should go through struggles alone. Seek support from friends and family. Talk to professors. Utilize academic support on campus. Reach out to student support. Join a club that is of interest to you. Plan ahead to cope with loneliness. Seek support early for any academic challenges.

Mindset Counts
College is a time of tremendous growth. Try embracing a growth mindset and remember to breathe. You got this!

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Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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