All your paperwork and payments have been completed. You have a syllabus for each course and all your required reading materials. You’ve been packed for weeks and are chomping at the bit—ready to tackle college life.

While you may be entirely ready physically, you could be one of the thousands of students who find the transition to college emotionally distressing. At the very least, you probably have a slight case of the jitters.

In this article, we will talk about how to prepare yourself mentally for college.

Why Would Going to College Produce Such Enormous Stress?

Some people seem to just roll with the punches and adjust to life on life’s terms. Then there are those among us who find that any change—good or bad—can result in emotional upheaval. Think about it: It’s probably your first time away from home for any length of time. You are faced with new challenges, new people, and new situations at every turn.

The transition from high school to attending college away from your family comes with its unique demands you might not have expected. If you grew up in a household where your parents had their hands in your academics and schedule, you might not be accustomed to day-to-day living without that familiar structure. Now that you don’t have Mom knocking on the door telling you it’s time to get up or reminding you to get some sleep, you might feel a little ungrounded.

Most students would agree that this newfound freedom is liberating and exciting; few are willing to admit it can be downright scary.

With your regular support system missing, the increased workload and academic pressure can seem like too much. The demands of trying to stay organized and manage your life and your own time independently is a lot. Many students suffer from mood swings, depression, and anxiety beyond what would be considered normal.

You can avoid (or at least limit) some of this distress by preparing yourself mentally for college ahead of time. But how can you do that? You want to bring with you a virtual toolbox of new skills to help you cope should you become overwhelmed.

Building a Toolbox to Prepare Mentally for College

So how can you build this so-called toolbox? It all boils down to developing some new skills to bring along with you. Let’s take a look at five of the most important abilities to master to keep you calm and level-headed

1. Practice Meditation

If there is one crucial skill you should focus on, this is the one. Meditation involves learning to be mindful and controlling your breath. Mastering this skill will help you face everything else with the grace and poise you need to succeed.

You don’t need to be spiritual or belong to an exclusive esoteric clique to practice meditation. And contrary to popular belief, meditation does not involve sitting in a temple chanting for hours on end.

Start with five minutes at a time. Pick a quiet spot to sit where you are comfortable and won’t be disturbed. Begin to slowly breathe in and out, focusing on each breath. If your mind wanders, that’s normal. Gently realign your thoughts to breathing deliberately. You can learn more about how to meditate by reading up on the benefits of the practice for students, in particular.

2. Establish a Routine

Parents establish routines for kids from the time they are infants. While many might argue this is more for the convenience of the caregiver, the truth is that people of all ages thrive on routine. If you are a free spirit who shuns a structured schedule, more power to you. However, for those who find anxiety tends to get the best of them, a steady routine can work wonders.

Before you even leave for college, start setting your schedule, complete with set times for getting up in the morning and going to sleep at night. Block off time during the day for your activities and make sure you give yourself periods for exercise, appointments, and play.

By getting into the groove of sticking with a routine, you will begin to provide structure for yourself instead of relying on your parents to remind you. This habit will naturally carry over when you arrive at school and help you cope more effectively.

3. Nourish Yourself

Now is the perfect time in your life to establish healthy eating habits. You may have skated through high school on a steady diet of Doritos and Noz, but the academic rigors ahead demand food for the brain.

Low-fat yogurt, oatmeal, berries, nuts, avocados, eggs, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and salmon are just a few brain-boosting foods to choose from. You might be surprised to learn that studies have shown dark chocolate and coffee also have superpowers to support cognition.

Hydration is a vital piece of the puzzle too. You have been told all your life to drink lots of water. A 2011 study among 600 undergraduate students showed daily fluid intake to be much less than the recommended levels. While it’s easy to forget to drink your water when you are so busy, keeping it on you at all times should help. Adequate hydration can help you stay focused and alert.

4. Learn Self-Soothing Strategies

There are probably going to be times when certain emotions feel like they are swallowing you up. Homesickness, frustration, and other overwhelming feelings can be threatening and even scary. Now is the time to work on a plan for how to cope if this happens.

Up until now, we have been talking about a virtual tool bag, but now we are going to suggest a real one. Well, not a tool-bag necessarily. A small box or tote bag will do. Inside the box, place items that you find soothing to your senses. Here are a few ideas:

•Calming essential oils like lavender or lemon balm

•Photos of your pets or loved ones

•A small handheld video game, crosswords, or stress ball

•Markers and a sketch pad or adult coloring book

•Hot cocoa mix

•Your favorite book

•Trail mix

The list of comforting items can be as unique as you are but should always include things that make you feel relaxed or uplift your spirits. As time goes on, the contents of the bag will change, but you may find it becomes a lifelong coping mechanism to help you through rough times.

5. Ask for Help

If things turn out to be harder than you expected, there is no reason at all why you should not ask for help. All college campuses have resources for students designed to help make their experience the best it can be. Most have a counseling center or clinic on site. Make an appointment to see a therapist or practitioner. Just sitting down for a chat can help you feel a lot better.

If your school has mental health support groups, check one out. Nobody will force you to stay if you don’t like it, and you just might find it brings you some much-needed relief. Discovering that you are not alone and that other students share similar feelings may help you make some friends and build a stable support system.


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