Regardless of the college or university you decide to go to this fall, or the program you study, you will be taking on a lot of changes when you begin your post-secondary journey. Between high school graduation and orientation week in post-secondary, any of the following may be new to you: your friend group, commute to class, academic expectations, living arrangements… the list goes on!
As humans, sometimes taking on a lot of change all at once can quickly become overwhelming. To help explain, let’s use an analogy we can all relate to.
Picture you’re on your laptop.
You’re downloading 15 different apps all at once, while also streaming your favourite show or music.
What’s likely to happen?
Would you be surprised if your laptop began to overheat, freeze, and then crash?
It’s not that your laptop is incapable of downloading 15 apps… it’s just that it may not have the bandwidth to do that many things all at once. That’s a lot to ask!
By getting into college or university, you’ve proven you’re capable of great things! But similar to your laptop, you may also freeze if you find yourself in a position where you’re downloading all the changes that come with this upcoming transition all at the same time.
While we are usually very understanding of how our computers best operate, it's helpful to have the same patience and understanding of how we operate as humans when we’re taking on new things.
So, what’s the deal with change and why is crashing sometimes a thing?
To put it simply: taking on too much change at once can lead us to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. It’s just how we are as humans. In fact, in extreme cases, when we’re super stressed out or overwhelmed (like, imagine being attacked by a bear in the woods), we can experience something called “Dorsal Vagal Shutdown.” If we go into this state, we actually freeze, and it makes it really difficult to even listen to any advice from a friend, no matter how helpful that advice may be. That’s why if you’re in crisis mode (like having a breakdown because life or school has become too overwhelming) and you go into Dorsal Vagal Shutdown… it can be difficult to take the advice a therapist gives you, because life is just too overwhelming to take in any new information at all and apply it.
With all this said, feeling overwhelmed by so much change not only interferes with your ability to enjoy the start of a new chapter, but it can also make things like problem solving a lot more challenging than normal.
Umm… so are you saying that I’m going to crash in first year?
Of course not! To a certain degree, it is completely normal to feel stress as you transition into first year. However, knowledge is power, and now that you’re aware how change can affect us as humans, you can start to think about what lies ahead for you and prepare accordingly. Instead of downloading 15 new changes at once, you can start to do it in advance!
Gotcha.. What should I be mindful of?
If you’re planning on going to uni or college in the fall, there are a few things you can do ahead of time to make the transition into first year a lot less overwhelming. Before the first day of class, you can start by asking yourself, what’s going to be new for me?
Are you moving to a new city?
Going to a school where you don’t know anyone?
Taking more challenging courses?
Starting a new routine and commute to class?
Chances are, there are many new changes you’re taking on, and the good news is, there are lots of ways you can start to download all these changes in advance, so that by the time you’re starting classes in September, you feel far more settled and adjusted than if no time was spent at all preparing for year one.
Here are some ideas…. You can:
Visit campus (more than once) before September
Reach out to your network to see who else is going to your school
Book meetings with your academic advisors to talk about your degree path
Find out where the writing support centre is on campus
Discover where to go to access the peer support centre
Walk to the wellness centre on campus so you know where to go for help if need be
Check out the local coffee shops and restaurants to find your new “favourite spot” in town
Being proactive and familiarizing yourself with the different resources/services that are available to you will inevitably help to reduce any stress that comes with being in a new environment. Most importantly, remembering to be kind to yourself during this transition will ultimately be the most beneficial thing you do! ☺
Did you find this helpful?
To learn more about this topic and many more ways to successfully transition into first year, check out our program here.
It was designed by 30 current college and university students who teamed up with award-winning professors and mental health professionals to create an engaging health and wellness orientation and support program for students going into first year.