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A Dorm Room with A View: How cognitive behavioral therapy can ease back-to-school nerves

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It’s back-to-school time at TFI Talks, and to highlight this time of year our expert therapists are telling their own first-day-of-school stories, and at the same time providing insights into how families, parents and individuals can handle back-to-school stress.

Today’s story comes from Family Institute staff clinician Jennifer Welbel, LPC. Jennifer is a therapist in the Institute’s Anxiety and Panic Treatment and Depression Treatment Programs. She specializes in using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure therapies (ERP) to treat children, adolescents, and adults with obsessive-compulsive and related disorders and depression. 


windowLike many incoming college freshman, I was both excited and nervous about starting college. I couldn’t wait to find out where I would be living, who my roommate would be, and what classes I would be taking.

However, my nervous anticipation was quickly filled with extreme anxiety when I learned that, due to extenuating circumstances, I wouldn’t have my dorm assignment until I got to campus. As all my high school friends were chatting with their new roommates and buying dorm decorations, I had no clue who I would be living with, let alone where I would be living. The uncertainty felt intolerable, but I kept reminding myself that everything would be fine once I got school.

However, when I finally arrived on campus, I quickly learned that I was being placed in all girls dorm, in a single, and it overlooked a cemetery. At that point, I remember being completely overwhelmed and anxious. I was stuck with everything I had dreaded – no roommate and no boys! I was terrified. I remember wondering, “What if I don’t make any friends? What are the other people going to be like in this dorm? What if I don’t have any fun without a roommate?”

Reflecting on that situation, I now know that the anxiety and nerves that I felt were normal. I was in a new situation—one in which I felt isolated and alone. I could have chosen to be upset about the situation and worry about the ‘what-if’s’, but instead, I shifted how I was thinking and focused on what I had control over. I had control over my behaviors, specifically my interactions with others, and I had control over how I viewed the situation. From that point forward, I made an effort to introduce myself to all the other girls on the dorm, and I learned that most of them were also in singles. I also always kept my door open, except when I was sleeping or away, which allowed my friends to visit and made me feel less isolated. Additionally, instead of thinking that I was going to be miserable without a roommate, I viewed it as an advantageous situation. I was getting the best of both worlds– I was able to see my friends when I wanted, but I was also able to have my alone time.

Knowing what I do now, I realize that, without even knowing it, I used cognitive behavior therapy. Instead of focusing on the negative and isolating myself in my room, I changed my behaviors and adjusted how I viewed the situation. And, in the end, I had an incredible freshman year and met some of my closest friends in that dorm.


To read Jennifer Welbel’s full bio or to make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for individuals, couples and families at our six Chicagoland locations. Learn more about us at our website.

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