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6 Tips for Coping with Freshman Anxiety

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6 Tips for Coping with Freshman Anxiety Starting college is one of the biggest life changes you can experience. And for many, leaving home and an established group of friends and heading toward a big question mark is one of the biggest causes of freshman anxiety.

With the start of school just around the corner, your internal dialogue about worst-case scenarios may be going full tilt with what-ifs. What if I don’t make new friends? What if I get overwhelmed with my coursework? What if I say something stupid at the party?

Adam Nelson, LSW, a psychotherapist out of Chicago, wants you to know that freshman anxiety and feeling homesick is normal – letting it take over your life is not. He also wants you to know you’re not alone and to practice patience with yourself.

“Give yourself time to find people you like being around and you’ll eventually find your footing," he continues. "If you’re more introverted or take a while to warm up to people, it can easily feel like you’re the odd one out and everyone else is effortlessly making friends, but they’re trying to figure things out just as much as you are.”

“Anxiety is a negative feedback loop. Break out of that by paying more attention to what’s happening outside of you than to your anxiety,” he says. Anxiety can freeze you out or make you feel you’re backed into a corner. Bring yourself into the moment and know you have options. Nervous about meeting new people at a social gathering? Reach into the coping skills bag and know you don’t have to be the life of the party. “Focus on being a good listener and processing what someone is saying so that you can respond genuinely.”

We chatted with Nelson about more of his tips for dealing with freshman anxiety.

1. Acknowledge your anxiety
“Being nervous about starting college is normal,” says Nelson. “For people who are predisposed to anxiety starting college can feel overwhelming, because having so many new experiences in an unfamiliar environment can be very anxiety inducing.” Get to know your anxiety – what is within your “normal” range, what is not, and what works for you to get you through it. “Know what your comfort zones are in social settings and consider when to honor them and when to push them a little,” he says.

2. Take care with self-care
“When it comes to managing anxiety your self-care is your foundation,” Nelson says. “Create structure in your day and your week so that you can take good care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Neglecting your basic self-care makes you much more vulnerable to anxiety.” What are your personal coping techniques? Doing yoga to de-stress, going for a hike, cooking for friends, talking to your sister, journaling, meditation? Know what self-care works for you and incorporate it into your daily routine.

3. Rely on your friends & family
Before you head to college, tell your parents, siblings, and closest friends that you’re feeling anxious and you might be reaching out to them. “Have a shortlist of reliable people who you can turn to when you need to,” says Nelson. “If you’re afraid of being a burden, know that there will be times when other people need to lean on you too, and that sharing your problems with the right person can bring you closer together.”

4. Keep active and find your tribe
Sports, music, theatre, publications, politics, volunteering, and other extracurricular activities are the perfect way to make friends in college. Yes, you’ll befriend your roommates, dorm mates, and classmates but mutual interests and hobbies can bring a deeper bond. “Having the opportunity to meet like-minded people is one of the best things about college,” Nelson says. “More structured social environments offer spaces where you can connect with other people over a shared activity, which takes some of the pressure off of social interaction because the social aspect is more incidental.”

5. Put “me” time on the list
On the other hand, Nelson says you might find non-stop social interaction – dorm life, classes, group projects, work study – a little draining. “Being constantly surrounded by people can be a big adjustment. If you’re more introverted, figure out how to carve out some regular alone time so that you can recharge.”

6. Don’t be afraid to turn to a professional
Having a counselor you know and like (and who knows you) can go a long way to mitigating your anxiety and dealing with change. Therapists are trained to quiet that internal dialogue, help you develop self-confidence, and establish coping skills. If your anxiety becomes acute, and you find yourself avoiding social situations, losing sleep, not eating or overeating, or becoming depressed, Nelson encourages you to seek help at your campus counseling center. “Most schools offer crisis intervention and short-term psychotherapy and can also refer you to therapists off campus for longer-term treatment, or for psychiatry and medication management.”

Find out more about Nelson on Psychology Today.

SHELF HELP
Nelson suggests these titles if you're dealing with freshman anxiety.

Little-Ways-to-Keep-Calm-and-Carry-On Mark Reinecke Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook Shyness-and-Social-Anxiety-Workbook-for-Teens-CBT-and-ACT-Skills-to-Help-You-Build-Social-Confidence