What To Do When Going Away to College is Giving You Anxiety

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Dear Dixie,

I’m going off to college and I admit it, I’m absolutely terrified! I won’t know anyone and I feel self-conscious that I’ll be too weird or dorky. I’m worried I won’t know what to do. Help!

–Shy and Scared


Dear S & S,

I know exactly how you feel. I used to be so shy, that my mom had to send me to school with a note for the teacher saying, “Please don’t call on our daughter. She might freak out.” I was too scared of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, being the wrong thing. I worried I was too this or not that enough. But one day I had a revelation.

I realized no one was thinking about me not being too much or too little. My epiphany was that no one was thinking about me at all. The only one obsessed with the impression I was making was ME. Being obsessed with oneself is not only narcissistic, it’s plain crazy; I was putting the maniacal in egomaniacal. So I decided to stop focusing on myself and put the focus on everything–and everyone–around me. I paid attention to learning, to figuring out my environment, and especially to getting to know other people. When you put your energy into getting to know others, to listening to what they’re saying instead of worrying about what you should say next, you automatically become a more engaging, nicer and more interesting person.

Picture yourself entering a party. You can tremble in your suede ankle booties worrying about the impression you may or may not be making, or you go on in with the intention of looking for interesting people to talk to, to whom you can introduce yourself, or if you’re still feeling shy, just plain observe. Who cares what they think of you, what do YOU think of them?

These situations are going to come up a lot in life–when you attend a seminar, start a new job, move to a new town. But new things don’t have to be scary. Think of it this way: You don’t wear the same outfit every day. You enjoy trying on new things, expressing different versions of yourself.

Unfamiliar situations are actually great opportunities to “try on” a new you. No one knows you or has preconceived ideas about who you are, and you can be whoever you want to be. You are free to be the person you always wanted to be, or have always been but no one could see. This is your chance to be free and become any version of you you’d like. But I’d recommend not telling lies or using any fake foreign accents. This is your golden opportunity to be your best, most authentic self. It’s a great chance to grow, expand, learn and get to know yourself and other people.

Yes, it can be scary, there’s no denying that. But maybe like a rollercoaster or a first date, it can be a good kind of scary. Try to stop worrying about others’ perceptions and start focusing on your own. And most of all remember this: It’s all going to be OK. I promise!

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