University life. No parents around, free reigns over what food you eat, and how late you stay out at night. Sounds nice, right?
Moving away from home for the first time can be an exhilarating stage of life; marking the beginning of adulthood. While this newfound independence may certainly be exciting, it can also bring along many challenges. Freshman year means finding your way in an environment filled with new people, and expectations. This can be overwhelming for any individual; especially a young adult.
It comes then with little surprise that it is estimated that 5-10% of students experience symptoms of homesickness during University*. Along with missing the comforts of home, homesickness is also often accompanied by feelings of anxiety and loneliness (Thurber & Walton, 2012). While the first week on campus is often filled with fun games and events, many students may still experience emotions of distress and anxiety.
So what can be done to help combat these debilitating negative feelings?
ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL THE EMOTIONS
First and foremost, it is important to know it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed or anxious about the new school year. You may be surprised to know that you are not alone in the way you are feeling, and that there are likely many other students in a similar situation. Which leads to the next point…
ALLOW YOURSELF TO MEET NEW PEOPLE
There is no question that making new friends may not always be easy. When you experience social anxiety, this may prove to be an even greater challenge. The first month of a new school year is often accompanied by many events and activities, designed for students to meet other students. If you have a roommate, a don or another student you have connected with, ask them to join you in attending one of the events. If this is something you are not yet comfortable with, perhaps consider asking a friend from home, or a sibling if they would join you. This is especially convenient during a weekend event. Whomever you choose, having a buddy to come along with you ensures that no matter what, you know somebody at the event. This may ease with the apprehensions towards fitting in or not knowing anybody there.
MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
As important as it is to meet new people, it is equally as important to take time for yourself. This may be the first time in your life you have been out on your own, without parents or siblings following your every move. Embrace this reality. Allow yourself to take time each day to do something for yourself, with just yourself; call it your “Me Time”. Maybe that means doing a five-minute yoga session in the morning, or a 30-minute run between classes; find what makes you happy, and do it. If you do not know what that ‘something’ is just yet, make that part of your homework this week. Take time to reflect on what will make you happy, and find out how you can incorporate it into your weekly routine. It does not have to be something big, could be as simple as listening to music at your favourite spot on campus, or telling yourself a positive affirmation each morning after brushing your teeth. Over time you may find that these activities may change or grow, as you do. Who knows, you may even discover something new about yourself.
FIND A FREE CLASS ON CAMPUS
Many universities and colleges offer free classes and workshops throughout the term. This is a great way to meet more people and be involved in the campus life; in a way that does not break the bank. These vary from health and wellness classes, to writing and study workshops. You may often find the schedules for fitness classes posted outside the gym or recreational centre of your school. You can also search your school website or talk to a representative at the local Student Resource Centre for more information.
DESIGNATE YOUR CARE ABOUT ME (CAM) CONTACT
Everybody needs somebody in their life that they know they can count on. This is especially important when you struggle with anxiety. Someone who understands and respects your personal struggles, and wants to support you whenever you need them, is what we call your “Care About Me” contact. It is important that your CAM contacts’ information is easily accessible whenever you need it. Be sure to have their name and phone number in your phone, as well as hanging a sticky note up somewhere in your home that best fits your needs. This way, should you be experiencing symptoms of homesickness and/ or the accompanying anxiety, you have a reminder of who you can turn to and how to reach them. It is important to first inform this individual that you wish to designate them as your CAM contact, and ensure they are on board.
HAVE MEMORIES OF BACK HOME ACCESSIBLE
Along with your CAM contact, hanging up photos of you and your friends in your dorm room can help create positive reminders of the support system that surrounds you. You may also consider having the background of your screensaver as your pet or favourite memory. The idea is to surround yourself with positivity and comforts of home, which may help combat any feelings of separation you may currently be experiencing. Who knows, maybe you will add to these images throughout the year, with new experiences and friendships.
REMEMBER TO TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME
Change can be difficult; this is true whether or not you struggle with anxiety. While there are many ways to help combat the nerves and homesickness that often accompanies freshman year, not all options work for everyone. Find one that works for you and take steps to instill the new routine into your everyday life. That said, do not force change all at once. Take each day as it comes.
Thurber, C., Walton, E. (2012). Homesickness and Adjustment in University Students. Journal of American College Health. 60 (5), 415-419