Uncomfortable with college stresses

Originally Published: December 1, 1993 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 12, 2014
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Dear Alice

Until college, I was able to handle stress very well. I managed many responsibilities in and out of school, and was thrilled when I was accepted here. Now that I am here, however, I feel unusually unable to deal with daily stresses. I find myself sleeping more than I used to, I have difficulty focusing on work, and the feelings of stress that come upon me seem always to bring extra feelings of depression and confusion. I have decided to cut down on my drinking in order to keep up with my work, but it was never much of a problem before anyway. I don't use drugs, and I don't feel as though I have a hard time making friends. I am not, I don't think, homesick. I am however, somehow uncomfortable with college stresses. I know this isn't much to go on, but can you offer any insight? I don't feel crazy or insane, just a bit uncomfortable.

— Dazed and Confused...

Dear Dazed and Confused...,

The transition to college life can be very exciting AND stressful. You're in a new environment. You have new schedules, new friends, and new living and learning situations. It's all different, and it can take a while to adjust. Many students find this transitional time challenging and uncomfortable, and it's more than OK to feel uncomfortable in a new situation.

While it's amazing how adaptable we humans are, we usually need some time to let newness sink in and allow ourselves the chance to find our groove. Depending on how long you've been at Columbia and in NYC, you might choose to allow yourself some time to adjust.

In the meantime, give yourself some kudos for dealing as well as you have been! There's no doubt you're facing some BIG stressors. For one, even though the city offers many opportunities and can be a fantastic place to be, daily living and schooling in such a stimulating environment can be a pain. Also, you might be living with a roommate for the first time. Your eating and sleeping patterns may have changed. And, let's not forget… the academic load at Columbia can be weighty! Even though you may feel like a small fish in a big pond with large classes, competition, and little of personalized attention, expectations to do well can still be overwhelming.

To get a better handle on your situation, you could ask yourself some questions, such as: What are the biggest stressors for you at Columbia? What aspects of college life have you enjoyed most so far? Are you new to New York or the urban lifestyle? If so, how much of a role could that be playing in your stress? Otherwise, how are the demands and pressures of college life different from high school life? What roles did you leave behind? Do you have new roles? Once you start to define your stressors, you may be able to manage them more effectively.

During this transitional time, you might consider reaching out to speak with a counselor about your concerns. Students at Columbia can contact Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC) to arrange an appointment. A counselor may also have suggestions for connecting with other students who are also feeling stressed about the transition into college. Because so many students request support during this transition, many school counseling centers actually coordinate support groups to help with these concerns!

The great thing is that you're self-aware and frank about your discomfort. This is a great asset because the first step toward changing things for the better is admitting things don't seem right!

Alice