Anxieties About College This Fall

Q: My name is R, and I just turned 18 six months ago. I’m starting college soon, and when I think about it I get nervous to the point of almost having a panic attack…

Reader’s Question

My name is R, and I just turned 18 six months ago. I’m starting college soon, and when I think about it I get nervous to the point of almost having a panic attack.

When I was 14 we (my family and I) moved away from where I grew up. We moved ten times in two years. I’ve never had a boyfriend, and the few friends I had before we moved away from home weren’t long friendships. I have trouble trusting people because of never really having a close social circle. It’s getting to the point where I’m starting to be afraid even to leave the house.

What can I do to stop being afraid? Is something more serious going on with me? Can people develop phobias over time or because of things that have happened to them?

Thanks for your help,

Psychologist’s Reply

Attending college involves more than being smart enough for the classes. College is a major social challenge and involves interacting with fellow students, instructors, and a new social setting. We lose a lot of freshmen each year due to their difficulties adjusting to the new social environment.

From your background, just as you describe, these things are new experiences for you. You haven’t had much practice with friends, boyfriends, etc. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it — it’s just you haven’t had a lot of experience. The anxiety you feel is very normal for any new experience. You felt this way the first time you went to high school, went to a new school, drove a car, spoke in front of the class, etc.

Rather than be anxious and afraid, you need to view college as an exciting adventure. You need to start psyching yourself up for this adventure. Get online, study the college, study the city, learn the campus map, etc. Rather than being afraid to be in public, gradually increase your public skills. Start going places in your community to become accustomed to new places. You will need to built up your social experience before going to college. Counseling will also help if available.

Keep in mind that your last four years have brainwashed you into thinking you are somehow less able or less worthy than others. Your email address tells it all. Any email address that belittles the owner suggests you have poor self-esteem.

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During high school you couldn’t help but be where you were. If our parents move a lot, we don’t develop close friends. You are moving into adulthood and college now. This is where you take control of your life. If you have weak skills in some areas, start working on getting those skills. In college, if you’re uncomfortable speaking in front of class, take Public Speaking as I did. I’m giving a workshop to hundreds of professionals in two weeks and they won’t be able to shut me up!

Rather than fear college, you need to gear up for it. Make your anxiety into excitement — it’s the same neurotransmitter. Once at college, enroll in their counseling services and let them know that you need to improve your social skills. They’ll be glad to help.

By the way, I’d change my email address to if it’s available.

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