Congratulations! You’re graduating.
…Or is it, “You’re graduating! Are you okay?”
Television, movies and other media have been telling you for years about how exciting it will be to transition from high school to college, or from college to the “real world.” In reality, although some students might be excited to start a new chapter in their life, you’re all confronted with the same challenges.
In college, you’ll need to make new friends, navigate a heavy workload, and take your first steps toward independence by living on your own or with roommates, instead of with your family.
These challenges seem like a piece of cake when you face the “Real World” for the first time, whether that’s after high school or after college.
With all of these transitions looming, it’s normal for high school and college students to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety in these years.
So how can you learn to manage these feelings?
High School Transitioning to College
As exciting as it is, the initial transition to college can bring a lot of anxiety to students.
A recent study showed that levels of anxiety, depression, and stress among college students increased steadily during the first semester of college and remained elevated throughout the second semester. This reflects what many students already know: that the first year of college is a particularly anxious time.
Here is what we encourage for first-year students:
- Anxious about making friends? Get involved! In college, you might feel like a small fish in a big pond, but there’s something for everyone! If you’re stressed about making friends, start by researching student organizations that you’re interested in. Colleges often have organizations for any interest: from arts groups to intramural sports to student government and more! These groups and events are a great way for students to get involved and meet new people.
- Struggling with changing routines? Treat your body right! For some students, it’s difficult to maintain healthy eating habits, regular exercise, and proper sleep on their own. It’s important to remember that all of these things are important to your body and your overall well-being. They are the most essential forms of self-care and building a daily routine around them eases the mind and releases stress. Being physically active also gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times.
- Having trouble managing your new workload? Stay organized! College comes with a lot of substantial assignments and multiple exams in a week is not unusual. When you’re not organized and ready for the workload, the stress becomes even greater. Your disorganization, unfinished projects, and piles of “to-dos” may be contributing to your stress and depression. To avoid this, try to stay consistent with a schedule and plan ahead. Find a system that works for you. If you like to have a physical reminder and enjoy crossing off tasks, a paper agenda might work for you. If you’re always on the go, an electronic planner on your phone or laptop that sends you notifications might be ideal for you. Schedule your exams, quizzes, and projects as well as events, days off, and self-care. This way you’re prioritizing school and your well-being.
Transitioning to the “Real World”
Whether you’re anxious about moving across the county, going on job interviews, starting your first job, or making life-changing decisions about relationships, being nervous about the future is a normal reaction to uncertainty.
Uncertainty is a major stressor, preventing us from planning the future. When the future is uncertain or we’re experiencing something new, we can’t rely on past experiences to make decisions. Without that tool, we become anxious about what the future might hold.
How can you deal with the uncertainty?
- Put things into perspective. What’s the most optimistic scenario that could happen? What is the worst-case scenario? And what is the most likely scenario? Ask yourself these questions, then ask yourself how you would be most likely to handle the situation. You may realize that even in the worst-case scenario, things will be okay.
- Understand what creates meaning and purpose for you. Take some time to consider what you most value in different areas of your life. Your purpose can be anything that makes you feel the most fulfilled. Some people find purpose by reading, practicing meditation, through religion, by healing others, or by spending time with loved ones. Finding your purpose and meaning can help you to remain motivated to take action and face uncertainty.
- Accept what you can’t control. Wanting to know and control everything fuels uncertainty. Recognize that sometimes all you can control is your effort and your attitude.
Whether you look for help at your college or from a mental health professional, it can be helpful to seek support when you are dealing with transition anxiety.
Colleges offer resources to help students navigate the initial transition to campus, including academic advising, counseling, and student mental health.
At The Bougainvilla House, we offer therapy sessions for teens and young adults who struggle with managing their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. If you would like to get started, please schedule your free screening here.