Are You Anxious About Heading Back to School?

Going back to college in California

Hacks to Manage the Last Few Days Before You Leave For College.

What Career to Choose?

Are you stressed out about school starting up again? Tests! Research papers! Sleepless nights! Quirky roommates! Social anxiety! Pressure to succeed! Pressure to decide on a career!

 Let’s keep it simple! Here are some tips to help you get through those last days before you return to campus:

1. Sleep

The single best thing you can do to stay calm and reduce your anxiety over school starting up again is to get enough sleep.

Let me say that again,

The best thing you can do to manage your anxiety is make sure you get enough sleep!

Of course, there are many other things that affect anxiety, and we will discuss some of them below, but start by getting a good night’s sleep in the nights before you head off to college.

Studies show that in addition to anxiety, sleep deprivation can also cause poor attention span, slow memory, less ability to think critically, and rumination.

If you are a young adult, you may think that sleep deprivation refers to just 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Actually just a few days of sleeping fewer than only 7 hours a night leads to levels of cognitive dysfunction “comparable to that found after severe acute total sleep deprivation.” Sleep is simply way more important than you thought it was.

Be sure to turn off your phone when you go to bed; it will help your mood and your ability to focus and think clearly.  If you are on group texts or notifications, the pinging will lead to interrupted sleep that is comparable to the sleep deprivation discussed above. Just four brief awakenings over an 8-hour sleep cycle is enough to cause the same amount of damage as a night of sleep deprivation.

2. Make a “To Do” List.

List only the things that are most important. No need to stress yourself out more than you need to! You’ll be back again and can finish the others later.

In reality, you could literally throw a few outfits in your suitcase, grab your laptop, your phone, and your wallet with your credit card/bankcard and ID, and you are good to go. Really. Scores of kids actually do it this way, and they survive just fine.

But you are a planner (after all, you’re reading this article!), so this isn’t your style. But know that in the extreme case that you only packed the above items, it wouldn’t be a disaster. This can be your bottom line. Some jeans and tops, a coat, a toothbrush, your phone, your laptop, and your wallet. Everything else is just gravy.

Given that, here are some things to think about first if you have time:

Are you current on your medical visits—family doctor, dentist, eye doctor. Get your prescriptions filled. Don’t forget to make sure your vision prescription is up-to-date. Eyestrain can lead to headaches and difficulty studying, so get those new glasses or contacts before you head out.

Packing to go back to college

Which things do you usually do with your mom or dad? Shop for clothes? Get household goods for your apartment? Maybe your parents have some household castoffs that you could use. Anything from old pots and pans, to that desk in the spare bedroom can be helpful if you are setting up a new apartment. Make sure you give your parents some time to think about what they don’t need before you are in the last minutes of packing up.

Suitcases. This may seem obvious, but in our family it’s always a last-minute drama. Suitcases tend to be shared and when someone is heading off, it’s invariably the case that someone else has already commandeered the best suitcases. If you aren’t the only one heading off to school right now, make sure you negotiate which suitcases you are taking, before the last-minute packing frenzy begins!

Take one “nice” outfit. Ladies, make sure you have one moderate length dress! Gentlemen, make sure you have some decent shoes! This may sound old-fashioned (hence the “Ladies and Gentlemen”!), but it is always good to have these things in case of a spontaneous opportunity for a job interview, an unexpected funeral, or many occasions in-between. If the occasion arises, you don’t want to be unprepared. Pick one outfit and it can be your back-up for your entire time in college, and even after.

3. Know that you will survive, even if your anxiety is quite high.

This is the real secret to managing your anxiety.

Anxiety is what we call a meta-emotion. This means we usually have anxiety about our anxiety. What does this look like in real life?

Let’s say you are anxious about meeting new friends at school. You might have some worries that you won’t meet anybody at all (regular anxiety), but your brain is probably telling you that is unlikely. You are probably more anxious that when you do meet new people, your anxiety will cause you to act stupid, or clumsy, or awkward. That’s meta-anxiety, or anxiety about your anxiety.

So what’s the fix?

Know that you probably will be a bit awkward when you meet new people. Most of us are. Even that guy who is so smooth all the time has his own doubts about how well-liked he really is. Trust me; I see lots of those people in my therapy office, and they struggle with doubts just like the rest of us!

So, I’ll be awkward. But that’s not reassuring.

Being awkward in Los Angeles

Actually, it can be reassuring. Because the trick is not to never be awkward (like this sentence!)—that’s impossible! The trick is not to be crushed by being awkward, but to forge on, confident that people will like you anyway, that being awkward is authentic, and other people will like you for being more human. If you can learn to laugh at yourself in moments of awkwardness, that is even better!

Know that the person you are trying to impress is also worried about being awkward! If you are awkward first, it takes the pressure off of them. You can even make a joke about it, “Well, now that’s over with. None of you now has to worry about being the first one to (fill in the blank) in public!”

Still Stressed Out?

If your anxiety feels too strong to manage on your own, therapy can help you find your calm. I offer online therapy as well as in-office therapy, so that I can help you wherever you are—either now, or when you return to school and begin to feel overwhelmed.

I am licensed in the state of California to do therapy, but if you are going to school out-of-state I also offer life skills coaching to help you adjust to campus life and manage your busy life.

Give me a call at 323-999-1537, or email me at, and we can set up your free consultation, either on the phone or in my office, where we can discuss how therapy can help you with your specific concerns. If you are heading out of state and need therapy, rather than coaching, I will be happy to refer you to one of my colleagues in your area. Let’s have a chat and see how we can get you ready to head back to school and be your best self when you get there!