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The Stress and Anxiety of Adjusting to College

When students transition from high school to college, the adjustments that most 18-year-olds have to make are the biggest of their young life!  Sometimes this transition can cause feelings of anxiety, but there are ways to cope and adjust. Depending on one's background and past experiences, some people may acclimate to these new conditions differently than others. However, there are some tips that can alleviate the stress that comes with this passage of life.

Build a safety net

  1. Prepare mentally and physically. Before heading off to Target to buy linens and pillows, have a frank conversation around what physical and mental issues may be worsened during times of stress and devise coping mechanisms or “Plan Bs”. Identifying the resources on campus they will be able to access if they struggle before they are needed to lessen anxiety for all. Consider accessing medical care now to get ahead of potential future issues whether that be your child’s pediatrician or a psychiatrist to address mental health concerns.
  1. Take the extra time and energy to find your tribe. Because most students will be moving away from home for the first time, they find themselves lacking the social touchstones that have supported them through the last four years of high school. Again, setting up a plan on how they will go about finding a supportive group of friends who can help them cope with the stress of the transition will go a long way in helping to set up a new social safety net. This might include attending on-campus events, joining clubs or organizations, or playing an intramural sport.
  1. Set expectations. Parents and students need to keep in mind that not everything will be sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes things won't go as perfectly as planned, and that's okay. College is a learning process, and each mistake or mishap will contribute to personal grow and preparing the student for life in the real world.
  1. Identify specific ways to de-stress and build downtime into the weekly schedule. The schedules of many college students can get hectic, and sometimes overwhelming. Building time into the schedule for unwinding is not lazy, it’s smart to recharge! This can include activities like:

It's a big adjustment

In the end, moving away to college brings exciting opportunities and potential challenges – for students and parents.  The stress that naturally occurs with such major life changes can suddenly and unexpectedly transition from being a challenge to something more serious like the medical conditions of anxiety and depression.  When you have made a thoughtful plan and devised coping mechanisms and your student continues to struggle, accessing mental health resources on campus and a psychiatrist sooner rather than later is critical for getting them back on track to success.


Angelo Sambunaris, M.D.

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