Coping with your first year at university, advice

I am about to leave town for my first year of university and as the day approaches, I find myself increasing with anxiety...

I am about to leave town for my first year of university and as the day approaches, I find myself increasing with anxiety. I have never lived away from home before and I do not know anyone at my new school.

I have struggled with my grades before and I am worried that the first year is going to be too difficult to handle. How can I manage these worries and actually enjoy myself through this transition?

You ask such a great question! I really like how you have recognized that it is not just about reducing the anxiety, but also about finding some enjoyment in your new surroundings. Let me tell you, it is possible! Having said that, there sure is nothing like uprooting your whole life to bring mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety!

First off, I think it will help you to recognize how significant of a life change this really is. Anytime you face a life transition — whether it is a move to a new city, a new relationship, an addition to the family, a change in jobs — there is bound to be a host of emotions that you will experience.

The very concept of change brings about a combination of fear and anticipation in most people.  Change is an upheaval to the way that things were and it makes sense that things will feel unsettled for a while until you settle into your new way of living. Understanding that anxiety is a normal part of change may help you to relax into the experience, knowing that it won’t last forever.

There are some practical things you can do to prepare yourself to manage the stress as you head off to university. Often, there is great anxiety in the unknown, so, try to get to know your surroundings as much as possible. Visit the city before you move and take a good tour to familiarize yourself with the places you will need to know (grocery store, shopping mall, laundromat). If you can, book a meeting with the university admissions counsellors and see if you can have a tour of the campus. During a tour, you will also have a chance to ask about the different type of support staff that are available to you as a student.

Another thing that can be helpful is to have something to look forward to. Are you planning to come home for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Make some plans in advance with some of your friends. Having your eye on a goal helps to keep moving you forward so that you don’t get stuck in a rut. You may even need to do this on a weekly basis, by planning special rewards at the end of your week for the hard work you have accomplished.

Once school begins, do your best to get out and make some friends right away. The longer you sit in your room by yourself, the harder it will be to venture out. If it’s too intimidating to introduce yourself to strangers, find out what school activities and clubs there are and join in on the fun.

When classes start, remember that the beginning is always the most overwhelming. During the first week you will be bombarded with assignments, textbooks and exam dates, and it all may seem impossible to achieve. Take a deep breath and recognize that you only have to take it a day at a time. Consider finding someone to sit down with and create a scheduled study plan so that you have a timeline for completing assignments. Most schools will have an academic advisor or counsellor who would be glad to help set you up for success.

If you find, however, that the anxiety starts to interfere with your daily life, and takes a turn down the road of depression, you may need to enlist some further help. Be sure to seek out more professional help (such as a doctor or counsellor) if you find you are struggling too much. At the end of the day, things will get done and the time will fly by. Soon you will fit right into your new lifestyle and there will be no time left for worries!

If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at info@pacifictherapy.ca. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.

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