Eerie, foggy, dark walks home from the library, the thought of them still gives me chills. Not only because it’s insanely cold in Michigan, but because I remember how anxious, sad, and lonely those walks could be back to my (even spookier) freshman year dorm room.
The Sunday Scaries haunted me many nights of college, not just on Sundays. Most of the time these “scaries” weren’t about anything in particular, but a side effect of how drastically different my life was, and how uncertain everything seemed.
Although college can be an incredible experience, the massive transitions, personal growth, and lifestyle changes can be impactful to your mental health. By my senior year, there were a few things I wish I had realized sooner in my college experience. Here is what I wish I knew, including stress, anxiety, coursework, my social life, and friendships.
What I Wish I Knew About Stress and Anxiety
Growing up and through high school, I played a large handful of sports and was constantly busy. I had a routine: school, practice, dinner, homework, sleep, repeat. I knew nothing but my busy lifestyle, which sometimes included practices before the morning school bell.
This busy routine kept my anxiety to a minimum, and playing sports was a natural stress reliever to me. But what happens when your routine gets thrown into turmoil?
Managing stress and anxiety can look different than before
Staying active was my best stress management. In many ways I was always an anxious person, but I never experienced anxiety the way I did in college. When my routine was no longer existent, I needed to learn new ways to manage stress and anxiety.
What changed my college experience was reimagining what my prior methods of stress relief could look like now. What I knew worked for me, could still work, but these tools had to take a different form as my lifestyle had changed.
For example, since I knew group exercise was how I managed my stress and anxiety in high school, I wanted to find a way to translate that to my college experience. Considering I didn’t turn out to be a D1 athlete, sports practices were no longer a part of my routine. I found group exercise classes that could roughly approximate my previous experience, fit into my new schedule, and made a commitment to sticking with it.
This concept is not limited to sports. If art class used to be a stress reliever, bring art supplies with you to school and set reminders to take time to do what makes you happy. Taking this time is just as, if not more, important than that extra hour of studying.
College poses new challenges
Although there can be many areas you face new challenges, for many, this is the first time living away from home…and with roommates. Two things are important to remember: It’s okay to be homesick and your roommate doesn’t have to be your new best friend.
If you’re feeling homesick, you’re definitely not the only one. Here are a few helpful tricks to combat this feeling:
- Re-create the comforts of home at school
Whether this means bringing your favorite blanket from home, making a favorite recipe, or even just having a familiar smell (like a candle or laundry detergent), small comforts can help!
- Don’t spend too much time in your room
Getting out and experiencing all of the new, exciting things in your new surroundings can help remind you why you chose this school. On most college campuses, there is always something going on, check out your school’s activities page.
- Stay in touch with old friends
Making new friends is a great part of college, but your high school and childhood friends will not only remind you of home, but will understand your background and where you come from. Checking in with them every once and awhile can be beneficial.
Roommates can be tricky. A lot of times there can be an expectation that you need to be the best of friends to have a good living situation, but that’s not always the case. Friendship might be an added bonus, but your relationship as roommates might need to come first. It can be most important to learn how to express your concerns with them and learn how to effectively communicate to make the living situation the best possible.
What I Wish I Knew About Coursework and Involvement
The new independence you find in college can be freeing, but it’s also a learning experience. Staying on top of your own time management and well-being can be overwhelming to many.
There are more important priorities than your grades
One class, one exam, one paper — the stress you might feel in the moment can be intense and you may do almost anything to cram in that last hour of studying. Your health, both physical and mental, is more important…I promise. After all, if you’re not feeling mentally strong more than just your grades will suffer. Remember the methods that have helped you manage stress in the past and explore what that can look like during college. If you need somewhere to start, there are plenty of tips out there.
Finding ways to enjoy time out of the classroom is a great stress reliever. Being involved on campus gave me my truest friends, memories I will never forget, and ultimately a well-rounded college experience.
Being involved is more than just a resume builder
Many might think of student organizations as just things to throw on your resume. Trust me: there’s more. Joining clubs and student organizations that you’re passionate about is a great way to build genuine connections and find those who have shared experiences.
These organizations can help combat feelings of loneliness, relieve stress, and create happy memories — all by taking a step away from stressors like challenging coursework and resume building.
I’ll make this short and sweet: get involved with things you’re passionate about, even if you don’t know anyone else involved yet!
Imposter Syndrome is normal
When coming to college, you might go from “a big fish in a small pond” to a “normal-sized fish in a huge pond.” At least, that’s how I felt. I went from a small high school, to a massive Big Ten school and could not have felt more average. There were times I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there and that everyone else was smarter than me.
Little did I know, so many people around me felt the same way. We all suffered from Imposter Syndrome at some point. Being confident in the classroom took time, and that’s perfectly okay. Finding classes you’re passionate about and friends that feel similarly can make all the difference. You deserve to be there, work on not being too hard on yourself!
Your path doesn’t have to be linear
The question “what are you studying?” might already be anxiety provoking.
Here’s the thing: you definitely don’t have to know yet. For your first year (or two), take classes that interest and challenge, take classes you’ve never even heard of. Now’s your time to explore all your school has to offer.
You might be able to imagine the panic I felt when I figured out I hated the intro classes for the major I had in mind. Not only did I hate them, but I wasn’t good at them either.
Long story short, I ended up in a major I didn’t know existed, after reading about the degree requirements and realizing how much the classes already excited me. Changing my mind gave me a major I absolutely loved, people I loved, and unpaid internships that I looked forward to going to.
It’s always okay to change your mind!
What I Wish I Knew About My Social Life and Friendships
Don’t let FOMO control you
In college, I almost never let myself miss a night out. Not because I was the biggest partier out there (trust me, I’m not), but I constantly feared the FOMO social media would bring if I chose to stay in, the anticipatory anxiety of missing out. Seeing everyone’s Snap Story or post on Instagram at a party or a popular bar was enough to convince me I had to do the same.
It wasn’t until later in college that I finally felt OK missing a night out and realized I actually, on the occasion, liked it. Turns out, I was happier overall when I started to take time experiencing what’s now termed “JOMO,” or the “joy of missing out.” It was all about finding the things — and people — that outweighed FOMO.
I never regretted the nights I spent going to the movies with my best friend, or nights I spent doing whatever I wanted to do. Don’t forget to take care of you and do what makes you happy — that way the FOMO won’t control your day-to-day life.
You don’t have to stick with a “friend group”
For whatever reason, “friend groups,” or cliques, exist in college as they do in high school.
During my early years of school, I felt limited to hanging out with my designated group of friends, guilty for doing anything without the entire group. Over time, I realized how unhappy I was doing this. I didn’t feel like I had found people that were as passionate about the same things as I was, and ultimately hadn’t found people I connected with on a deeper level.
Going to a large university, I had endless options of new people to meet. Not having one set “friend group” can be a great thing. Having friends interested in my multiple passions was incredible and not being confined to one clique was extremely freeing.
What I wish I knew before college is that making the effort to make friends in my major, my minor, and my student organizations would make all the difference. This suggestion may sound obvious, but it’s easy to fall into a comfortable rut, and not challenge yourself to meet new people. There are so many people that are shocked to find out that my “class friends” are friends beyond the walls of the classroom.
College can be a challenging time and most people face stressors and anxieties at one point or another. Make sure you do some research on your college’s mental health resources and know what’s available to you. If you’re struggling and seeking help on campus isn’t an option for you, online therapy might be a great and flexible option! Talking to a licensed therapist on your schedule, whenever, wherever, about whatever stressor might come up can lighten the heavy emotional load of college.
Ultimately, you might have to experience some of these things yourself to understand — but keeping these tips in the back of your head won’t hurt. Most importantly: you are never alone.