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Starting Freshman Year of College? Here’s How to Deal if You’re Stressed

Starting Freshman Year of College? Here’s How to Deal if You’re Stressed

You finished high school, summer is quickly coming to a close, and you find yourself feeling anxious. Not only are you making decisions for yourself about what’s next, but your friendships are changing as people head in different directions. Change is inevitable, but starting this new chapter can be a lot to deal with at once.

“The leap from high school to college can be a big one,” said Katey Parsons, M.Ed, LPC, Behavioral Health Counselor, Red Rocks Community College. “One of the biggest changes is the independence and freedom that is expected of you, both in your personal life and academic life. While you’re expected to rely less on your instructors and family for guidance, it is important to know you don’t have to do it all ‘on your own.’”

If you’re heading to college, there will be a ton of exciting new changes and challenges coming your way. Fear not – we’re here to remind you that no matter which route you end up taking, it will be okay. You aren’t alone in feeling like this.

Here are three common challenges you can expect when starting college and how to take care of yourself as you navigate through them.

1. Academic expectations and learning environments look a lot different

College classes range in size, type, time, and frequency. Instead of someone telling you your schedule, it’s now up to you to decide what you want to learn and when you want to learn it. You’ll likely find that you have more free time within classes and more autonomy with tasks than you are used to.

This sounds great, right? It is—to an extent. This is what you’ve been waiting for! The power to be in charge of your time! However, as Spiderman’s uncle once said, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.” In other words, there’s a cost to being in charge of your own learning. It’s up to you to plan your schedule, attend class, and study and learn.  

How to Manage

Your time is valuable—learn to use it productively

If time management is something you struggle with, it’s the perfect time to reevaluate your efforts. There are tons of apps that can help you organize your to-do lists and stay on top of deadlines. Check out Top Universities app roundup article, “Best Time-Management Apps for Students,” and try a few to find the one that you actually like using. Or, go old school and buy a planner. There are a ton of options available on Amazon.

You’ve got a lot of resources—take advantage of them

College coursework can be challenging, especially if it’s a hard subject you’re unfamiliar with. If you are struggling with the reading, have questions about what you’re learning, or need some guidance on how to best do your assignments, seek out help from your professors and Teaching Assistants (TAs). Professors have office hours to support students on a one-to-one basis for exactly this reason. That’s what they’re there for, and it’s something to take advantage of!  

Weave relaxation and self-care practices into your day-to-day life

Of course, academics are an important part of college, however, your mental health and physical well-being should always remain a top priority while striving for educational success. Physically scheduling time for self-care into your life can make a world of a difference. In committing yourself to that time, you are inherently making it a priority.

What are ways to practice self-care and relaxation? While these both can look different for each individual, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Download a meditation app (Headspace, Insights Timer, etc.)
  • Read a book for pleasure
  • Take a yoga class
  • Go on a leisurely walk
  • Write in a journal

2. You have a new bed, a new roomie and a temporary new home

Depending on where you go to college, you may find yourself living in a new town, on your own, with new surroundings. This could include a dorm room or apartment with anywhere between 1 – 6+ roomies, and a new way of getting/making food and cleaning up after yourself. And yes, this may include doing your own laundry (gasp). If it’s the first time you have to share a space with someone (especially when it’s a stranger), this can be quite a learning curve.

How to Manage

Make your new space your own and figure out what “home” feels like to you

Your room will be where you will (potentially) spend a great deal of time, whether that’s studying, sleeping, or hanging out with friends. Creating a physical space that’s comfortable can play a huge part in our overall sense of well-being. CollegeXpress shares great tips on how to make this a reality including:

  • Decorate the walls with art
  • Get a comfy chair
  • Decorate with pictures of friends and family back home

Practice setting boundaries with your new roommates

Check-in with your new roommate ahead of time to get to know each other and talk about your living expectations. Ask about cleaning habits, pet peeves, and what their activities and hobbies. Getting started on the right foot by talking about shared responsibilities and how you can compromise can help to avoid future problems. During these early conversations, it’s important to know what your own living needs are so that you can communicate them to your new roommate and work together to create shared boundaries for your fresh living situation.

3. Building new relationships, and keeping old ones, takes extra effort

College is often portrayed in the movies as this idyllic place where making friends is easy, finding where you fit is a no-brainer, and managing life is a piece of cake. For most people, the path to getting there is a little rocky. Forging new friendships, maintaining old ones, and finding your place in this new space can be hard, and that’s okay.

How to Manage:

Seek out and join clubs

One way to make friends is to get involved where you are with clubs and organizations that resonate with you and what you’re about. Making friends is intimidating, but if you seek out activities that you enjoy doing and meet people who enjoy doing what you do, that can be half the battle.

Most schools have a list of clubs and activities somewhere on their website, though sometimes it’s separated by department. If you’re going to college in Jefferson County, Here are ways to get involved at Red Rocks Community College and Colorado School of Mines.

Use social media wisely

Social media is the perfect way to keep in touch with friends, but spending your time constantly looking at someone’s Instagram story to see what they’re up to keeps you from enjoying what’s happening in the moment. It can also lead to jealousy or major FOMO. Be intentional with your social media and use it to actually connect with friends by writing comments on their posts and letting them know you’re thinking of them.

When you get caught up in the social media vortex, remember that posts are a curated version of someone’s life and aren’t always telling the full story. Schedule social media breaks, and even delete apps for a period of time if you can, to enjoy life where you are.  

What to do when you’re still struggling

With all of the changes coming your way, sometimes making small adjustments doesn’t make you feel better. If you feel off and don’t know what to do, talking to someone can help.

“It is completely normal to feel lonely, maybe even depressed, and overwhelmed as you head back to school, but you don’t have to sit in those feelings for too long,” said Parsons. “To ease the stress of heading to college, get familiar with the resources your campus has to offer and use them.”

Most campuses have on-site counseling support for those days when you need to talk to someone and work through what’s bothering you. A quick search online can help you find out what services your specific campus has available to students. If you’re going to school in Jefferson County, check out Behavioral Health Services at Red Rocks Community College and the Counseling Center at Colorado School of Mines.

Remember that help is just a phone call away. If you are feeling stressed or distressed call Colorado Crisis Services for 24/7 support from a licensed crisis counselor.

Hayley Ward is the Marketing and Digital Communications Coordinator at Jefferson Center. She earned her BA from the State University of New York at New Paltz in Communications and moved to Colorado shortly after to live 300 days of the year in the sunshine.

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