Starting college is a time of excitement and growth, but it can also be extremely overwhelming and stressful. Whether you're worried about making new friends, doing well in your classes, or paying for tuition, there's a lot to juggle when just starting college.
As a new college student, stress is a normal, unavoidable part of life. Part of the college experience is learning new life skills, and how to manage your stress is one skill that will serve you well throughout your life.
Most common causes of stress for new college students
While starting college life can be stressful for anyone, these stressors are prevalent among new college students.
Making the transition from high school to college
Whether going to a local community college or an out-of-state university, this can be a big adjustment, especially if you're coming from a small high school or this is your first extended stay away from home.
A lot is riding on your college education, and it can be tough to adjust to the higher level of academics in college.
Meeting new people and navigating the social scene in college can be scary. This can be a particularly challenging stressor if you're introverted or shy.
College is expensive, and many students worry about how they will pay for tuition, books, and other expenses. Some worry about the difficulties of juggling employment with their studies.
Finding time to get everything done can be tough with a packed class schedule, extracurricular activities, employment, and social life.
Tips for managing stress in college
If you're feeling stressed out, there are things you can do to manage your stress and make college life more manageable.
But first, there are some things that you should definitely NOT do.
- Overload on caffeine. This may help in the short term, but if you're already stressed, caffeine can actually make your anxiety worse.
- Procrastinate. Those late-night cram sessions are always a bad idea. If you start studying a little each day for an upcoming exam, you'll retain the information more effectively, and you won't have to sacrifice sleep by pulling an all-nighter.
- Use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress. It may be tempting to use something that will give you a little "extra energy" or something to "take the edge off," but the long-term physical and mental toll isn't worth it.
- Isolate yourself. It's essential to stay connected to other people when you're feeling stressed. Talking to friends and family can help you feel better and provide support.
Here's what you can do instead:
One of the best things you can do to reduce stress when starting college is to get organized. Create a schedule or planner to keep track of your classes, homework, and social commitments. This will help you ensure you're on top of everything and avoid missing deadlines.
When you're feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and prioritize what's most important. Sometimes, that means saying no to some things so that you can focus on what's really important to you.
It's important to schedule some "me time" into your week to relax and recharge. An outlet for your stress can help tremendously, whether it be going for a run, taking a few minutes to meditate, or a creative outlet like painting or writing.
If you want to incorporate relaxation techniques into your routine but are short on time, many relaxation and meditation apps are available for mobile devices.
Get enough sleep
According to the APA, very few Americans get the recommended eight hours of sleep every night, and college students are no exception. The consequences of sleep deprivation can include anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, which will only worsen your stress and possibly jeopardize your academic goals.
Lean into your support network
When you're feeling stressed, talking to your family and friends can help you feel better when you're feeling stressed. They can offer advice, support, and understanding. If you're far from home, reach out to your roommates or fellow students. Building connections with others can help you feel less alone and more supported.
When it's more than just stress
If you're feeling overwhelmed and like you can't cope if your stress is impacting your daily life, or if you have anxiety or depression and the symptoms are worsening, it's time to seek professional help.
Colleges typically have counseling services available on campus; in most cases, this is a free resource for students and staff. In addition to counseling services, many colleges have free mental health screenings and workshops that teach tools for developing healthy coping mechanisms.
The Mental Health College Guide by the JED Foundation was developed to help young adults navigate the many life changes that come with heading off to college. It covers everything from relationships to self-care, prevention, and support resources and includes information on mental health, identity, and race.
It's ok to acknowledge that you're stressed out. There's no shame in admitting you need help or that you need to make some changes that will alleviate some of your anxiety.
If you need help navigating college stress, our Young Adult Program offers counseling and support to help you make the most of your college experience. Book a free consult today!