Managing Depression & Anxiety While Away At College

When I was younger, I saw a poster of Tiger Woods. The caption read, “How do you go from the best to the worst overnight? Turn Pro.”

I always kind of thought it was a bit stupid, frankly. Your abilities don’t change because of what pool you’re competing in. Tiger Woods’ golf skills were the same when he turned pro as they were when he was an amateur.

Then, I graduated high school and went out into the real world. The phrase “it’s all relative” smacked me hard, right in the face. So much was different. And I finally understood that poster. Just because Tiger Woods was playing the same game, his opponents were considerably better than those in the amateur circuit. The game may be the same, but the circumstances have changed.

Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Increase at College

In order to properly manage anything – from auto maintenance to lawn care – one must have a realistic understanding of what to expect. Someone who has a history with depression and anxiety cannot realistically expect not to have symptoms flare up.

Going away to college for the first time has all kinds of potential pitfalls. A new environment, new people, and new rules are all things that trip up the most mentally healthy among us. People suffering from mental illness do well with a set routine and when they feel comfortable in their surroundings.

Going off to college ensures that everything will change. Being aware that those changes are coming and setting realistic goals for overcoming them will help ensure success in the long run. Keep in mind, everyone is adjusting; it’s the nature of the beast.

Move Slowly and Deliberately Your First Few Weeks in College  

My granny, whom I love more than anything, was always trying to slow me down when I was younger. Her favorite phrase is, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” All clichéd expressions aside, she is correct. Remember, college is a four-year marathon, not a one-day sprint. It’s okay to be slow to adjust. In fact, it’s typical. Don’t be afraid to slow down or rest when needed.

Before leaving for college, ask friends and family if it’s okay to contact them a little more often. In their own way, they are adjusting, too, and will generally welcome hearing all about new adventures.

On move-in day, arrive early. This allows for a slightly less crowded experience. Use the buddy system and bring along a friend, even if that “friend” is mom or dad. Bring along some comforts from home that help you sleep. I’ve found that sleeping in a strange place can be difficult and lack of sleep can contribute to issues with anxiety and depression.

During the first couple of weeks, leave extra time to get to classes, meals, etc. The day before, walk different routes to important buildings around campus (like the cafeteria, student services, etc.) This will make becoming familiar with the new surroundings much easier. And don’t be afraid to get lost.

Also, learn where the campus health center is. If they have a hotline, keep note of it.

The most wasted times of my life were times I spent judging myself for my “failures.” It didn’t help me, it didn’t feel good, and it didn’t work. Setbacks are normal and should be expected. Don’t allow them to turn into losses.

I always recommend keeping it simple. Focus on the day-to-day and move from one success to the next. Keep that success in mind and keep going forward.

As Dory would say, “Just keep swimming!”

Gabe Howard is a popular speaker, writer, and advocate who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is an award-winning writer and the creator of the official bipolar shirt. (Get yours now!) Gabe can be reached on Facebook, via email, or via his website, www.GabeHoward.com.  Don’t be shy — he’s not. 🙂