Counseling Center
The Counseling, Health & Wellness Center

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Adjustment to College


Jeanne Keahon, CSW

Going to college is a wonderful opportunity for personal growth...

Of course not all students will respond to these changes by becoming distressed. How we respond to stress depends on a combination of factors: heredity, general health, childhood history, and coping skills which the student may have already developed. It also depends on what else may be going on in the students life such as a parents illness, parents divorce, the death of a friend or some other significant event can easily raise the cumulative stress to a detrimental level.

People respond to stress in different ways. Some become more anxious, some become withdrawn and depressed or both. The first signs of trouble might be difficulty with concentrating in class. There may be changes in sleeping and eating. Some students complain of not being able to get to sleep. Some report waking up in the early hours of the morning and not being able to get back to sleep. Some are consumed with worry. Some are sleeping much longer than what is normal for them and have begun missing morning classes. Some students report not being able to eat although they feel hungry. Many complain of feeling tired and fatigued and have a lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Often students will confide that they have noticed difficulty getting along with others. Their friends accuse them of being irritable and short tempered. They may also be overwhelmed with sadness and become hypersensitive and cry easily.

Unfortunately, many students will attempt to improve the situation by "self medicating" with use of alcohol or other drugs in an attempt to feel better. Perhaps this approach will seem to provide temporary relief but it does not enhance coping skills and may intensify a developing depression or anxiety disorder.

The best approach to dealing with stress is to first recognize and acknowledge the stress. Many people get into trouble because they are not aware of their body's response to stress e.g. back and neck aches caused by muscle tension or jaw pain due to clenching or teeth grinding, abdominal pain and headaches.

The next step is taking care of yourself. If you are not sure where to start the Counseling, Health and Wellness Center is a great starting point. There are experts on staff who can help you with developing a plan that's right for you. A good plan includes emotional support, a good health exam, relaxation, recreation, and an appropriate exercise program and diet.

The counselors at the Counseling Center are especially experienced with college students and the issues they are facing. They can help you develop an individualized plan to successfully cope with the stresses of college life. In some cases severe and prolonged reactions to stress may require more intensive treatment including antidepressant and/or anti-anxiety medication. The counselors at the center can make a preliminary evaluation and assist with appropriate referrals if needed.

What is not recommended is doing nothing. Prolonged stress can wear a person down emotionally and physically and unnecessarily lead to poor academic performance and other problems.

The Counseling Center is located on campus in the Counseling, Health, and Wellness building. Services are confidential and without charge. For appointments call 436-3368. 

For more great information on maintaining emotional health through the transition to college, visit the Transition Year website.