Photo courtesy of Wake Forest News
Photo courtesy of Wake Forest News

College Life Can Create Mental Stress

“The best four years of your life.”

I can’t count how many times I heard this well-meaning sentiment before I started my first semester of college two years ago. My high school teachers and counselors acted as if admission to a top-tier university such as Wake Forest was the end of all worries, and my older friends’ posts on Instagram only conveyed intense happiness. When I started classes on campus, I felt somehow abnormal or as though I was doing college wrong when it didn’t quite seem like my collegiate years were automatically the best four years of my life. Platitudes about the admissions-pamphlet perfection of university life are almost always conveyed in good spirit, but they are misleadingly and unhelpfully two-dimensional.

For every new undergraduate, the shift from high school to college is seismic. No one is there to remind you about basic tasks such as eating and sleeping properly and keeping your room clean. You have to navigate rebuilding your social networks from scratch and may miss your high school friendships terribly. All the while, professors will likely expect much more of you academically than your high school teachers did. And if you “only” face these challenges, you’re one of the lucky ones. For some students, entering a predominantly white and wealthy university means joining a community in which few others come from the same background. All of these factors together can create a perfect storm of stress, confusion and sadness that is far from the lofty, exaggerated happiness that too many first-semester freshmen are promised.

Of course, all of these challenges come along with the wonderful and exciting aspects of your new collegiate adventure — you’ll form great and fulfilling friendships, discover fields of academia you love and experience the sweet freedom of being in complete control over your life for the first time. However, if the “downs” of the transition to college start to offset the “ups,” there is absolutely no shame in admitting that you’re struggling. If you’re having trouble finding a home amongst like-minded peers, there are a number of on-campus spaces that can provide a welcoming environment. The Women’s Center, the Intercultural Center, the LGBTQ Center and the Social Justice Incubator are good places to start. Chances are, participating in an activity that you loved in high school will help you feel at home and at ease as well. I practically lived in my high school campus newspaper’s computer lab and couldn’t be happy anywhere without competitive swimming, so the Old Gold & Black and the club swim team were two of the first activities that made me feel more comfortable at Wake Forest. No matter what you are passionate about — whether it’s politics, sports, art, music, or anything else — there’s an extracurricular activity or club at Wake Forest that fits you and a whole group of people waiting to welcome you in.

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The university is also cognizant of the impact of its high-pressure academic environment on students. As such, Wake Forest has instituted programs such as Wake the Beautiful, Student Government Mental Health Week and Sleepin’ Deacon Week of Sleep to start conversations about student wellbeing. Events and programs organized by Thrive and the Office of Wellbeing can give you the knowledge and perspective you need to live a healthy and balanced college life, so you should take full advantage. And, of course, always be sure to get some therapy in the form of puppy kisses and tail wags when Woof Forest holds Puppies on the Quad.

Don’t forget that your physical health is intrinsically linked to your mental health. This means that getting an adequate amount of sleep, eating regular and balanced meals, and keeping your body active are crucial. If you’re hungry and tired, you can’t do your best schoolwork, and that additional stress certainly won’t help your happiness. Eating with your classmates, moreover, is an important step in building good social relationships.

You’ve already proven that you have what it takes to thrive at Wake Forest by being here. Your freshman year is going to be an exciting adventure of mistakes and successes. Sometimes it’ll feel like the time of your life, and other times it won’t. Enjoy the adventure — it will fly by.

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