Transitioning to College When Coping with Anxiety
Updated: Sep 17, 2021
The notion of leaving home for many is a very exciting time filled with anticipation, perceived freedom, and exploration. However, for those struggling with anxiety, this transition can be harder than for most. New settings filled with change, removal of home comforts, constant social interaction with floormates, roommates, and RA’s. Needing to reorient your whole life to center around the new focus of your life: Surviving your freshman year of college; both academically and socially.
There is very little additional support for those coming in to college with known and diagnosed (or undiagnosed) anxiety issues. When panic attacks, excessive stress, and other anxiety driven factors do present in the dorms or counselors office, it often gets brushed off as “this happens to everyone their first year of college, it is NORMAL.”
I do not know how many times I was told this as I was constantly getting sick, in pain, near vomiting, and feeling a sense of immense terror and fear in classes for NO REASON. I was not fitting in socially no matter how many different events and group meetings I dragged myself to. And the main thing that was being ignored was I had been suffering from extreme anxiety and persistent depression for YEARS before entering college. It was not normal or healthy and I was suffering to the point of illness.
I feel like most of my freshman year was a blur, and it was not because of the partying (of which I did none of). There are 10 tips that truly helped get me through the year and am passing on to other students entering college who already have a history of anxiety and depression previous to entering.
Mental health will not miraculously improve just by leaving home and starting college. Know your resources available to you on campus and through your health insurance for mental health and stress coping support resources. Many campuses offer free counseling services or have a center with private support groups.
If you are already in treatment previous to leaving, talk with your health and mental health care provider team previous to leaving to establish a plan. I was not in treatment at the time I entered college and it created a situation where I had a lot less tools in my belt to deal with all of the change and stress.
If you are on medication, make sure all of the necessary records get passed along to your new provider. If you are able to stay with your same insurance, make sure your new team has the contact info for your old one to obtain any necessary information. This will ensure there is no unnecessary stress or pause in obtaining prescriptions.
If you do not already have a mental health team, look into free clinics, workshops, and resources on campus or through the school’s health care center. Do not wait until finals to try and book an appointment with a counselor on campus as they will get rushed with appointment requests surrounding finals and midterms as the stress level of students increases.
Find places on or near campus that you can establish as your safe places. Become familiar with them and keep them as places you can go to relax, get some work done, or just have a moment of pause and restart for the day.
It should be noted that this can be challenging in a new place and you will discover them as time moves along. Just make sure to take note of how different surroundings make you feel or even those locations at different times of day.
Try to establish some sense of familiarity with the schedule that felt best to you at home. This can be anything from continuing a hobby or passion project from home or still having netflix access to continue the shows you were watching.
Choose what you bring to your dorm with intention. Don’t bring so much extra stuff that it is overwhelming, but don’t bring so little that you are constantly reaching for things that are now 2,000 miles away. Consider also whether if you did leave that item at home could it be replaced in less than an hour for less than $20. If so, don’t worry about it too much. But, if there are things that are apart of your every day routine, small reminders of home comforts, or vital things like medication and medical needs, make sure those things come with you.
We will be releasing articles focused on how to make your room the safe space and oasis that it should be as well as how to navigate roommates freshman year later in our Anxiety in College Series
Talk with your parents carefully to decide if a single or double dorm would be best. I would advise against a triple. Too many schedules and personality conflicts cause undue stress in an already stressful time. I had a double, and even with an unsupportive roommate, it was probably better that I was not holed up alone in my room even when I really wanted to be. It was good that there was some level of social interaction in each day. As long as they respect boundaries and vice versa.
Schedule your classes reasonably your first term. Have at least one of your classes something you are looking forward to and ensure that you have actual time to eat, sleep, and maybe do a fun thing or two. Sprinkle in some showers and exercise and you will be set.
SELF CARE< SELF CARE < SELF CARE Three things that need to be in your self care checklist: Hygiene, Nutrition, Sleep, Movement, and at least one activity of relaxation or enjoyment each day. If these things aren’t in your routine from day one, they will never get added in (and also will let our anxiety turn into a depressive episode real quick) so DO IT!
College is going to have genuine shit moments, but I guarantee if you listen to this advice, you will start off on a much better foot than my college freshman self did. I am gifting you with all the things someone said to me and wished I actually listened to.
With love and understanding,