Cindy Gullo, LCPC - Therapist & Counselor
The Blog

How to Slay Your Mental Health as a Freshman

So, you’re a freshman. Congratulations! Graduating isn’t easy, but you did it, and now you’ve your sights set on expanding your horizons – that’s pretty impressive.

Feel free to pat yourself on the back and take a moment to relax. As you do that, we’re going to tell you something that needs to be said more – college can be hard. There’s a whole new world at your feet, and it’s filled with classes to find, information to absorb, new people to meet, and so much more. It can all get a little much.

And, ironically, despite being a ‘freshman, there’ll be times when you’re not feeling, well … fresh.

Mental Health Happens

As you welcome an avalanche of changes into your life, it can seem that a change in mood is only natural – the new you. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes the changes taketheir toll and your emotional state shifts. And with that, your mental health can take a hit in silence. So knowing the signs and checking in on yourself is essential.

What to look out for:
  • Changes in sleep habits and/or appetite.
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and/or powerlessness.
  • Not attending classes or social outings.
  • Increased pessimism (the glass is always half empty.)
  • Trouble concentrating or paying attention.
  • Your relationships are affecting you more than before.
  • You’re just not feeling much of anything.

If you find yourself feeling this way, know that you’re not alone:

Depression & Anxiety: Pretty Common Among Freshmans?

The annual Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement found that 53 percent of first-year students reported a substantial increase in mental and emotional exhaustion. Another study determined that approximately one in three freshmen had reported mental health problems in the past year.

What can be done?

Fortunately – plenty! By following a simple yet effective mental-health-minding regime, you can survive (and thrive!) in your first year of the rest of your life.

Your Guide to Staying Fresh as a Freshman

Track Down Your Campus Counselor

When life gets you down, shout it from the rooftops. Or talk to someone about it. Most colleges offer counseling options to their students through a team of campus counselors and a variety of mental health supports.

Today’s campus counselors offer a blend of support, including in-person, video, and telephone formats, so that you can find help in a way that works for you.

Search for information about your campus counselor on your university’s website or visit the campus offices for advice.

If you already have a rapport with a therapist off campus, reach out and schedule an appointment. They will be happy to help!

Socialize & Build a Support Network

To survive in the wilderness that can be freshman year, you’ll need to find your tribe. Having people to talk to or rely on can be invaluable in college, helping you to integrate into college life. You may also find that they’re having the same worries or facing similar challenges, allowing you to feel less alone.

Wondering how you can meet new people and form groups in college?

Here’s how:

  • Introduce yourself to people when you attend activities and participate in programs on campus or in your community.
  • Call home.
  • Get to know your professors.
  • Join or create a study group.

Being open to new opportunities can also be a fantastic way to build a varied friend group. So, don’t be afraid to get out there! Everyone’s in the same boat, so a simple smile and friendly “hello” can go much further than you think!

Move it!

While your brain is guaranteed a workout at college, we can’t say the same for your body. That’s why actively choosing to move is a necessity.

Endorphins (the feel-good hormone) flood your brain as you get your blood pumping.

Exercise can take the shape of a mid-study dance session in your room, a quick run around campus, or even a speed clean!

Tip: why not kill two birds with one stone and cover your social and exercise bases by joining a college sports team?

Dedicate to Downtime

Sleep is your best asset when it comes to surviving college. You’ll hear plenty of students priding themselves on functioning with little to no rest – don’t fall for it! Instead, carve out your 7-8 hours every day and reap the benefits of a clear mind ready to take on the world!

Keep a calendar or diary.

Freshman year can be pretty full-on. How are you meant to fit all of that coursework in your brain? Never mind those new names you must remember, and the list goes on.

So create a list! Or, keep a diary (in-person or online.) Making good use of the calendar app on your phone or hanging one up on your wall can also help get what’s on your mind out of it!

Set Goals

College is full of little day-to-day achievements that tend to go unnoticed. The result? Feelings of unfulfillment, dissatisfaction, and boredom. Things can start to feel a little flat, and your self-esteem may take a hit.

The remedy? Creating your milestones. Maybe you want to meet 10 new people that week or get over 80% on an upcoming test.

Reward Yourself

As you smash each new challenge, treat yourself, you deserve it. That new dress you’ve been eyeing up? A gourmet meal out? A night on the town? All yours!

All work and no play isn’t sustainable despite what some of your professors might have you believe.

Find your “go-to’s.”

Everyone needs something that calms their mind, replenishes their energy levels, and makes them feel like them again. For some, it’s slow, deep breathing; for others, Yoga and/or meditation. You may find that taking a bath or watching a movie works for you. Whatever your self-care pastime is – be sure to schedule time for it!

Quite your mind

When all around you is noise, sometimes all you need is silence. Meditation can offer you a safe place to return to in times of high stress and anxiety. Moreover, it’s a mind-quietening exercise whose effects work and last.

Or if medication isn’t your thing, take time to step away from the world. Put all screens away, turn off all music/notification, limit distractions, and enjoy tuning out the world for your small slice of invaluable serenity.

Say no!

You’ve probably heard it countless times: “college is the best time of your life!” So, why would you want to miss out on anything?

Because it’s necessary.

There’s only so much you can handle and knowing your limits is vital to maintaining a sound mind.

So, repeat after me: “I have a ‘no,’ and I’m not afraid to use it!”

And most importantly …

Go easy on yourself

Whoever said college was easy … oh wait … no one has ever said that – because it isn’t! Even the breeziest of bypassers on campus are facing their struggles. So, there’s no need to put on a brave face and suck it up; true strength lies in being kind to yourself and others while reaching out for the help you deserve.

Finally …

Depression and anxiety happen, and if they happen to you – you’re not alone. People want to help. All you have to do is reach out. And while counseling and therapy are great, they’re even better as part of an overall regime for keeping your brain in tip-top shape as you take on your first year of college!

If your mental health is taking a hit and you need support, contact me to schedule a 15-minute consultation. You got this!

Need support? Schedule a 15-minute consultation with me. You've got this!

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