I’m A Freshman, Now What?
Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of Ephesus once said that “The only constant in life is change.” You may find this nugget of wisdom especially resonant if you are currently in a state of flux.
Most of our lives are embellished with significant milestones that mark the turning of a new leaf. Perhaps one of the most important of these milestones is the transition to university life. As a freshman, college life might fill you up with an array of emotions from joy to overwhelm. Moving to a new city or country and keeping up with the new responsibilities of a young adult life might be daunting in the beginning. But have no fear as this is all normal and part of the experience!
We believe – and the evidence suggests – that the right kind of preparation will set you up for success in no time.
Change, even good change can be nerve-racking. However, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal invites us to shift our perspective on how stress affects us. In her TED Talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend,” she mentions that we tend to interpret the physical symptoms accompanying stress as a hindrance to our performance in some way. These thoughts might inadvertently lead to erroneous assumptions that you are not capable enough to handle challenges. On the other hand, McGonigal suggests that stress can be a fuel for motivation.
For instance, in a study by Dr. Jeremy Jamieson from the University of Rochester and colleagues, participants who believed their stress response (e.g., pounding heart, breathing fast, etc) to be helpful were less stressed out and more confident about their 5-minute speech performance. Now, this was not like any regular speech as it was set up by the researchers so that the participants received negative feedback from the evaluators throughout their performance. Interestingly, McGonigal notes that the participants’ stress response also changed based on their beliefs about stress. Those who considered the stress response as useful had blood vessels that remained relaxed even though their heart was pounding. According to McGonigal, this is exactly what happens in moments of joy or courage.
Since we cannot eliminate stress, it is quite useful to know that how we view stress matters. If thinking about your transition to university ties your stomach up in knots, consider this tip and seize the opportunity to show off your skills even when you want to run for the hills!
Expect to miss home
Adjusting to a new school environment can be stressful as well. On top of that, being away from friends and family can induce a sense of homesickness. Though it is perfectly normal to miss the familiar faces we used to see in high school, homesickness can sometimes get in the way of trying out new things.
Clinical psychologist Christopher Thurber from Phillips Exeter Academy and Dr. Edward Walton from Oakland University suggest that intense homesickness typically co-arises with anxiety and can even exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions. The good news is that you do not have to let homesickness get in the way of a fulfilling educational experience.
The first step is to manage expectations. Evidence suggests that independently managing life, new friendships, new schedules, academics and even new dietary habits can bring about homesickness. Come to school prepared that you will be going through quite a few changes.
This is a time to treat yourself with kindness and a healthy dose of compassion. In a study by Duke University researchers, Meredith Terry and colleagues demonstrate that self-compassion helps students experience less homesickness. In other words, the students who responded to difficulties with kindness and equanimity reported having a more satisfactory first-year experience than those who were not able to practice self-compassion.
Don’t expect perfection
Managing expectations and showing yourself compassion in times of stress may be all the skills you need to adjust to university life without the side effects of homesickness. Lastly, remember that nobody is perfect and there will be times where you will have to juggle multiple responsibilities as a first-year student. Normalize imperfection and prioritize exploration.
- 1. Thurber, C. A., & Walton, E. A. (2012). Homesickness and adjustment in university students. Journal of American College Health, 60(5). https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2012.673520
- 2. Terry, M. L., Leary, M. R., & Mehta, S. (2012). Self-compassion as a buffer against homesickness, depression, and regret in the transition to college. Self and Identity, 12(3), 1-13. DOI:10.1080/15298868.2012.667913
- 3. Jamieson, J. P., Nock, M. K., & Mendes, W. B. (2012). Mind over matter: Reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 141(3), 417–422. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025719
- 4. https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en
- 5. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heraclitus/