The First-Semester Blues

By Janessa Palmer
Distinguished Young Woman of Minnesota for 2013

Throughout High School I had never been the girl to just break down and cry. I prided myself on my involvement with speech, musical, sports, band, National Honor Society, 4-H, and many other activities while enjoying my ability to manage them all. I breezed through school with a 4.07 GPA, spoke at commencement, and went on to represent the great state of Minnesota less than a month after graduating.

I’m not going to lie and say I never cried during my time in high school, because I did have my moments, but for the most part, I was comfortable and content with my high school career. Moving on to college, I knew I would be leaving that world behind to pursue loftier goals, but I never fathomed the comforts I would miss when I came to school.
My first few weeks were amazing – I moved in earlier than other students because I am a member of the University of Minnesota Marching Band, a.k.a. the Pride of Minnesota, but as the semester goes on, I find myself bogged down with more work to do, things to plan, and less time to think. I have a packed daily schedule from 6am to 7 PM, so I already begin my week in a crunch. Add in a setting I have never dealt with before, finding my own food, procrastination, and my need to socialize, and time really flies.
The reason I am writing this post is not to scare future freshman or to say that my college experience is negative, but to share with you that there are some things that you just can’t prepare for. I have yet to fully feel content in my college setting. I am constantly working on seeing past the homework I have yet to do and the meetings I have yet to attend, to the dreams I have placed in my future. I have many nervous habits now, such as picking my nails and itching my face. I almost always am missing something from home, and calling sometimes just isn’t enough. But this anxiety I have been feeling is actually normal. According to, forty million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 75 percent of them experience their first episode of anxiety by age 22. Yes, being anxious in college is common, especially when you are adjusting as a freshman.

Joining the band is one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life. It set me up with a family of 320+ students and faculty, gave me a purpose, gave me a place to call home, and most importantly a pride for who I am and what I am doing. Staying involved in groups on campus can get you talking with students who are experiencing the same feelings you are going through, and who enjoy similar hobbies or subjects. Socialization is one of the best aids for anxiety and/or stress.
Another reason why Marching Band has been so beneficial is because physical activity significantly lowers the amount of stress your body feels, while giving your mind a break. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous workout, something as simple as a 15 minute walk can help clear your head and refresh your body.
Other ways to help with feelings of anxiety include;
   Limiting Caffeine – I know, sounds tough for college kids, but I’ve found that Gatorade or fruit juice actually makes a pretty nice substitute.
   Eat well-balanced meals – Sometimes it’s hard to fit a meal into your schedule, other times you feel like you could eat a barge! Maintaining a routine and a healthy diet puts you in control of your body.
   Learn what triggers your anxiety – Write in a journal whenever anxious feelings pop up, and try to figure out what you can do to delay or prevent them.
   Take deep breaths and count to ten – This actually works. It can help to clear your head while increasing the blood flow to your brain and decreasing the risk of an anxiety panic attack.
   Do your best and accept that you cannot control everything – Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get. College is challenging, so be proud of all of your achievements – big or little!
   Talk to someone – Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, more than likely they understand and have experienced what you are going through. College advisors and other professionals are also great resources, and a physician or therapist can give you professional help if your feelings of anxiety continue to increase.
College is a fun, life changing, and exciting experience, and anxiety is just one possible side effect. Surrounding yourself with people and things that you love can help relieve some of the stress. Some may never experience this anxiety, but you may come in contact with someone else who is struggling. Now you know how to help – even if it’s lending them your attention for a few minutes, you could be releasing a huge burden from their shoulders.

If you are or do have feelings of anxiety, you are not alone, and it does get better. I frequently call home for inspiration and motivation to keep pushing through, and no matter what I have yet to do, I make sure to go to bed on time. The few points lost by not completing an assignment are not worth the rest and recovery of a good night’s sleep. I have to make myself realize that I am not perfect, and my grades don’t have to be either, and I constantly remind myself that if I try my hardest and make the best of each moment it will all work out in the end.

Janessa Palmer is a college freshman at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota majoring in Animal Science (pre-veterinary) and minoring in Spanish. Originally from Willmar, Minnesota, Janessa was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Minnesota for 2013. Learn more about Janessa here!

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