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Psychiatry & Psychology--General/I am not coping well in college



I have just completed my first year at university, and was academically very successful. The university I attend is several states away from where I and my family permanently reside, and it is this separation that has been extremely trying.

I understand that homesickness is a natural part of going off on your own for the first time, but it usually wears off. For me, homesickness was constant throughout the entire year, and at times was so intense that it caused physical symptoms of anxiety and overwhelming sadness. My parents and I maintained a close relationship while I was away by talking on the phone daily, but it wasn't enough.

The year was academically very stressful, to the point where I felt overwhelmed at dinner instances. I also wasn't able to make any close friendships, leading me to feel not only alone but isolated. The opportunities this college have given me are too unique to pass up, I think, so I do not think transferring would necessarily help academically.

I'm worried that my closeness with my family is not "normal". I am scared to grow up and be on my own permanently, and just thinking about going back to college in a month and being alone and isolated and away from my family fills me with absolute dread. I feel as if I am the only one experiencing these feelings, as all of the people I saw on my campus, including my roommate, made friends and were so well adjusted within just a few weeks.

Is what I am experiencing normal, and is there a way to remedy this situation? Thank you incredibly much!


Normal? Don't know. Probably is in nature, somewhat out there in degree. How far out there?  Given that a major (and under-reported) cause of suicides in your cohort is starting university (separation anxiety, loneliness, feelings of academic inadequacy, pattern disruption, etc.), I'd say you're closer to the middle than the edge.

But (apart from the fact that your school doubtless has a counselling center where they've heard it all and are trained to help with it) who cares? It's your next question that's the important one. So,

1. Make an appointment for academic advisement. Bring a Calendar/Catalogue of the school(s) nearest where you live and ask for help in planning the next semester or year there in such a way as to minimize the loss of the present unique opportunities.  

2. Compartmentalize. You're there to work, not schmooze with family and friends. On your non-work weekends, there are planes, trains, and automobiles to take you home. Don't think of a year-long separation, think of a mere five-day focus followed by all the hugs and kisses you want.

3. Be patient. The angst of homesickness dissipates with time. And making the right friends is a matter of luck and can't be predicted, but it almost always happens, and is sure to make a difference.

4. What's likely at the root of your discomfort is simple academic stress, so deal with that. For instance, see if you can drop one or two of your most problematic courses that you could make up through summertime "distance ed" (from there or elsewhere) while you're at home. Dropping, say, one of five courses doesn't reduce your workload by 20% -- more like 50% if it's the right course.

5. Don't compare yourself with class- and dorm-mates. You know what they say but you don't really know. Again, who cares?

Anyway, thanks for asking us Kaitlin, and I hope those notions will help a bit. All the best.


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Alan Auerbach


Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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