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
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anxious, some become withdrawn and depressed or both.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.