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Adjusting to College Life

Your freshman year away at college is an exciting time -- full of new classes, new people, new activities, a new living environment. For many students the first year of college is the first time living away from home, and away from the structure of the family environment they've grown up with. So with all of the exciting newness of the first months of college life, so much unfamiliar territory can also lead to stress and worry. For most students, these concerns are minor anxieties about where they fit in, where their new social circle will emerge, and what the future holds. For others, the sudden change in living environment can bring on more serious worries and even depression. Fortunately these more serious cases are rare, and taking some simple steps to care for yourself and reach out to form a community can go a long way in helping you adjust well to college life.
 

Know that You are Not Alone

The good news about freshman year anxiety is that everyone is in the same boat. All of your classmates are just as new to the freshman year experience as you are. While some students take to new environments like a fish to water, most students will experience some homesickness or worry about their new environment and their place in it at some point, even if they are very good at not showing it. Just remembering that you are all in this place together can go a long way in helping you feel less isolated with any stress or worry that may arise.
 

Form a Social Circle Through Activities

One of the most potent stresses that can arise for many college freshman is worry over making new friends. If many of your friends from high school are also attending the same college or university, you may find yourself with familiar faces -- or not. Friends who were close comrades before college may find themselves in a new social network, and this can be painful for some students. And if you have few or no friends from high school among your freshman ranks, you will certainly be looking to make new friends. Signing on for extracurricular activities is a great way to meet new people who share common interests and like to do the same things for fun and to wind down on the weekends or after classes in the evenings. Consider sports teams, arts groups, hiking clubs, and volunteer organizations -- all are great ways to meet fun and interesting new friends, and even meet people you may want to date!
 

Monitor Your Class Schedule and Workload

One cause of freshman year stress and anxiety is putting too much on your plate too soon. Know that the first year of college requires a lot of adjustment, so go slowly. Make sure your course load is manageable for you, especially if you are also taking on a part-time job. Take on one social or extracurricular activity at a time. Overloading your schedule in an effort to stay busy and meet new people can backfire -- before long, you'll be unable to keep up with social commitments and class assignments, only increasing your stress level. Keeping tabs on the optimum level of activities, work, and classes for you can help you stay mentally focused and healthy.
 

Make Self-Care a Priority

Even the most social students should take time for themselves each day to take care of themselves and develop a sense of autonomy. Taking some basic steps toward self-care on a regular basis can help you keep stress at bay and enhance your classwork, and your personal relationships.

  • Be sure to get plenty of rest to manage stress, fatigue, and stave off depression.
  • Make time for exercise several times a week. Even brisk walks in the fresh air can help clear your mind and keep your body healthy.
  • Don't skimp on social time. Your personal relationships are key to overall health.
  • Keep an eye on your diet. Campus food can make overeating or poor nutritional choices all too easy, but being mindful to eat a balanced and nutritious diet can help you maintain your energy levels and aid your mental health.

 

Don't be Shy -- Seek Counseling if You Need It

If you are experiencing more serious stress, homesickness, or even depression, don't be shy about asking for help. Colleges and universities offer counseling centers that are usually free for students, and many schools report that at least one-third of the freshman class makes use of these services at some point during their first year of college. So, you have nothing to lose from seeking professional counseling if you need it -- except, perhaps, some unneeded stress and worry.

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