Freshman year survival guide

I’m Jesse Benefiel, and I currently attend the University of Humboldt state as a sophomore. I am majoring in psychology as well as molecular and cellular biology, while pursuing a minor in French.
For many, the idea of college can be an unsettling one; a subject that brings up all sorts of fears and anxieties. These emotions are perfectly normal, and, as you will be told repetitively, are felt by the majority of the student population; but, since that doesn’t solve the problem it likely isn’t of too much comfort. The most common reason for these fears is based on change. It is a time of major transition in life where many begin to explore their newfound independence and develop necessary life skills to survive. It will seem as though the time has come to separate from the friends and family that had been such a constant in life, and learn to survive in an environment never experienced before. These and other thoughts are likely to come up, and they are overwhelming. However, it is necessary to understand that they can also be far more dramatic than necessary. This is the case for most of the fears and anxieties one has before actually attending college.
To expect no discomfort in college is sadly unrealistic as there is always discomfort in resituating one’s life. However, with proper action, the discomfort may be minimal, and completely under one’s control. Before I came into college, I was an extremely anxious person, and part of that anxiety was from separation. Fears of the upcoming change were a constant in my mind, and even caused me to fall into a deep depression the summer before college. As of current, I am the least anxious I have ever been in my life, and I owe it all to college and the experiences it has brought me. Thus, I thought some of my techniques for survival, would be helpful for incoming anxious freshmen.
The first important step to having a pleasant college experience is to manage the mind. If the idea of college is terrifying, keep thinking about it. If one is actively putting aside one’s fears, it simply simmers in the back of the brain, and continues to put out negative emotions. Set aside special times to think about it during the day, and follow it up with the most relaxing and distracting activities one can do. Exposing one’s mind to these thoughts helps the brain cope and prepare for what is upcoming, and will eventually dull the unpleasant emotions felt. While thinking of the fears, try to think about all the unrealistic portions to them as well, and teach the brain to calm down. Combatting the unpleasant thoughts is helpful in training the body to relax about the whole situation. Using the situations mentioned earlier—separation from friends and family, and a new environment—as an example, consider what truth they hold. Any physical separation by college is not permanent, and in the meantime there are plenty of ways to keep in touch, such as writing letters, emailing, calling, and so on. It is commonly said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and scientific research helps back this up. When it comes to good friends and family, oftentimes college is an experience that actually strengthens the bonds rather than weakens them. As for the environment, how different can it really be? Certain factors will be different, but one often creates the environment they live in through the friends, classes, and experiences they choose to take on and surround their self with. The physical environment almost becomes irrelevant by that point. So there may be differences, but they are survivable. The brain is meant to cope, one just has to let it learn how to. Managing the mind also means keeping it healthy. If therapy is available and affordable, it can’t hurt to go check it out. Even if it’s not, finding a friend to constantly talk to is helpful to. If there is a way to vent the problems, do it! It can really be helpful.
The second important step is to become part of the experience. If one can learn to make the college a second home, then life becomes much easier. To do this, be as active as possible in making friends and attending events. Don’t just wait for someone to come and befriend you; instead, randomly sit by someone on a bench or at a table, or strike up a conversation in a line or in class. It isn’t weird; it’s comforting, and completely expected of incoming freshman. I’m a sophomore and I still do it. Once one has a friend, one can begin to make a game out of it and see who can get the most phone numbers or acquaintances. If one is striking out at the moment, or simply hasn’t had enough time to make friends, a roommate can be a great outlet. If they are agreeable enough, they can be great companions to be with and check things out. Furthermore, it never hurts to increase friendship with the person one lives with, which will be good for the future. The events in town and on campus are great for meeting people, and developing good feelings for the area you live in. It distracts from unpleasant emotions, familiarizes one to the area, opens one up to new friendships, and prevents boredom. If it was stimulating, by the end of the day you will be too tired to feel fear, and can instead relax and read, or maybe watch a movie before going to bed.
It is helpful to note that exercise is a good outlet for frustration, and should be considered a step for emotional wellbeing. It regulates hormones that help combat feelings of depression and fear, and tire one out and relaxes the feelings. While accomplishing this, it also makes the body healthier, and (if in a public place) opens one up to the possibility of new friendships. This does not require athleticism, or even one to enjoy exercise, a thirty minute jog is a quick and great way to get rid of bad thoughts and emotions.
The last technique I have to offer is distraction. Distraction is an amazing, amazing thing. If not already known, try to find something that calms and keeps the mind from thinking. My personal one is television, but for others it can be music, reading, exercise, and so on. Explore and find the perfect one. After exposing oneself to college and getting anxious, the willingness to continue doing it is much easier when one can disconnect from the discomfort afterwards. It can begin to become a reward for exposure to new events, friends, and experiences, and so can be a great motivator.
College is a fantastic experience to embark on, as long as one lets themselves enjoy it. Keeping the mind and body healthy is the first step which allows one to open themselves to a plethora of experiences. These experiences are the kind that expand the developing adult, and create memories that will last forever. There may be some fears in the beginning, and while I originally had doubt in going to college, I am now extremely content with my life and would not have changed a thing.

Journal of Communication : Volume 63, Issue 3, pages 556–577, June 2013

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