Any change in your life can cause stress, even a positive change like starting your first year at U.Va. . . or returning for your second, third or fourth year. . . or starting a graduate or professional program. New relationships begin; former relationships may or may not continue; there are new learning experiences and new living spaces, all of which contribute to excitement, challenges and the stress of adjusting to change. Any change can create an identity shift−inciting opportunities for growth or possibilities of setback.

Here are some questions to ask yourself or discuss with a trusted friend or counselor:

  • Who am I without all the activities that I do? Am I more than a basketball player? Am I more than a straight-A student?
  • How do I share myself with acquaintances? How much do I share and how quickly do I share it?
  • How do I know who to trust?
  • How do I make good choices that honor my being, my values and what is important to me?
  • How do I keep myself safe while still trying new and different experiences?
  • Who are my supports?
  • How do I help a friend who is having trouble? What do I do if I see an abusive relationship developing?

The Women’s Center Counseling Services offers the following tips for making a healthy start to the academic year, whatever changes you may be facing:

  • Others around you are also experiencing changes and this can cause increased conflicts in relationships to the point of violence in some situations. Abuse and violence should NEVER occur in a healthy relationship.
  • It is tempting to sign up for everything you are interested in doing. Instead, prioritize. Someone who insists that you spend most of your time with them and is always asking where you are or what you are doing is a warning sign for unhealthy patterns. (This includes constant texting to check on you.)
  • Set some goals for each semester and write them down where you can see them to help you stay on track.
  • Identify friends who support your goals and understand your priorities. One red flag that indicates an abusive relationship is when someone ridicules your values or your beliefs and tries to interfere with your goals.
  • It is a myth that college students drink excessively and that “everyone parties.” A fun social life can help manage stress; too much alcohol and drugs will only increase stress. That behavior can also prevent you from accomplishing your goals.
  • Exercise also helps to manage stress; excessive exercise can lead to more problems. Try to vary your exercise routine to prevent physical injuries and to have more fun!
  • Sleep is another good strategy for managing stress; make sure your living space is one that allows for adequate quiet time for sleep and study. If you have roommates, have this discussion at the beginning of the year to establish norms, rather than waiting until a problem occurs.
  • Eating is another way we try to manage stress. Over-eating or under-eating will only add to your problems because your body is not getting the correct “fuel” to help you stay active. Another sign of an abusive relationship is when someone makes negative comments about your body. Body size varies depending on many factors, and everyone should not look the same.

There are many resources at U.Va. to help with transitions and changes.

Please also read this informative article on living with a psychiatric illness in college.

Best wishes to everyone for a healthy and successful school year!

Photo by: Cole Geddy