How to Deal with an Identity Crisis in College

Three Methods:Getting GuidanceExploring New Ideas and PerspectivesMeeting New People

College is a chance to discover a lot about yourself and the world. Unfortunately, some people struggle with what they learn and develop an identity crisis. These crises are actually fairly common, since students are still in the process of forming an adult sense of self. Get campus guidance if you find yourself in an identity crisis, but also take the time to explore new ideas, perspectives, and people.

Method 1
Getting Guidance

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    Access campus counseling services. Identity issues are quite common for college students, of whom about 8% have identity problems. The psychological effects of these issues can lead to things like depression, anger, loneliness, and hopelessness. If you’re having trouble navigating who you are, consider seeking some professional guidance.[1]
    • College campuses nowadays almost always have counseling or mental health services. Find out what your college has on offer and call or visit in person to find out more.
    • Consider making an appointment to talk with a licensed counselor, social worker, or psychologist. Keep in mind that these services are always confidential.
    • Counseling services can help you deal directly with issues like sexual or gender identity, or help you come to terms with spiritual crises. They can also help you cope with related issues like depression and confusion.
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    Seek out spiritual guidance. Many students grow up in a religious or spiritual tradition and are exposed in college to new and challenging ideas for the first time. It’s not uncommon to struggle to reconcile these new ideas with your spiritual beliefs and, for some, this can contribute to an identity crisis. If you’re in such a position, it’s important not to feel alone and to voice your concerns.[2]
    • You might consider talking to someone in your faith like a rabbi, an imam, a minister, or a priest. People with religious training can help you understand how your faith answers big questions about the world, God, suffering, who we are as people, and how we ought to live.
    • Many colleges also have chaplains for spiritual and pastoral care. Be aware that these figures are often non-denominational and sometimes even completely secular – they are there to help both religious and non-religious students.[3]
    • You could also consider talking to someone from outside of your faith for a sort of “second opinion.” This may be a good idea if your identity crisis stems from something that your own faith doesn’t accept, like an aspect of sexuality or gender or other beliefs.
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    Confide in friends, family, or mentors. Seek out help from your friends and other people that you trust on campus, as well, if you’re dealing with a crisis of identity. Let them know that you are struggling. They may not be able to solve the issue, but they can at least offer love and support.
    • Tell a trusted friend that you are feeling confused and uncertain about yourself: for instance, “I feel sort of lost and have started to question some things about myself.” Your friends can especially offer support if your crisis is accompanied by depression.
    • You may also be able to reach out to family members, like siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Trusted adults like professors, older students, or Residence Assistants might be another option.
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    Keep in mind that an identity formation can be a difficult process. It is normal to struggle with your identity during adolescence and even into adulthood, and the process can take a long time.[4] Try to be patient and recognize that what you are experiencing is normal. Some good ways to cope with this challenging time include:
    • Learning how to tune into your emotions and self-soothe using relaxation techniques. For example, if you are feeling anxious, then you could do some deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
    • Taking breaks as needed. If being at college becomes too stressful during an identity crisis, then making a weekend trip home may be a good way to help yourself feel better. Try arranging a trip home once per month to get some support and comfort from your friends and family at home.

Method 2
Exploring New Ideas and Perspectives

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    Take a broad range of classes. A big part of resolving a crisis of identity is to learn and explore. This includes questioning what you think you know about yourself and the world and being open to change. At college, you have access to all sorts of views, ideas, and opinions that are different from your own. Start with classes.[5]
    • Are you dealing with ethical upheaval? Why not take courses in philosophy or political science – these will open up the big questions of life to you, as well as suggest ways that you can make a difference.
    • What about a crisis of identity in your faith or spirituality? Try enrolling in a religion course. A survey of major world faiths can be enlightening and give you new insights. Some people feel the same way when taking courses in science, too, like biology or astronomy.
    • If you are questioning your sexual, gender, or racial identity, you may be interested in taking some courses in cultural studies, too. Consider signing up for a course in post-colonial studies, Alterity studies, or Women’s studies, for example.
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    Interest yourself in new ideas. Ideally, college is a marketplace for ideas. You’re lucky enough to be in a place where you can seriously explore new views, not just in classes but on your own time. Interest yourself in and engage with new ideas, whether you want to find out more about politics, faith, sexuality, or something else.
    • Make time to read, for one. Your college puts all sorts of library resources at your disposal, including books, newspapers, magazines, and online access to journals. For instance, if you’re questioning your faith you might read something by an atheist, like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, or by a person of faith, like C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
    • Go to talks and debates on campus, too. A political debate might give you a better sense of who you are as a voter and citizen, for instance. A debate on ethics might make you more attuned to issues of social justice.
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    Go abroad for a term. Consider spending a term abroad studying, if you have the chance. Travelling and living in a different country and culture is often a catalyst for self-growth and discovery. It forces you to confront and adapt to attitudes, values, and practices that you’ve never been exposed to before, giving you a better sense of self.[6]
    • Most people who study abroad come back with a better sense of maturity, self-confidence, and ability to accept ambiguity. They also report having a better view of their own cultural values and biases.
    • Talk to your college’s Study Abroad Office if you’re interested in traveling for a term. Your school might also hold Study Abroad Fairs, workshops, and information sessions.
    • Keep in mind that some of these programs are costly. But there may also be opportunities for work-study, where you can pay your way by working or as an intern or volunteer abroad.

Method 3
Meeting New People

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    Join a campus club. College campuses are full of official and non-official groups and organizations. Some may be political, others for shared hobbies, others to create a “home away from home” for minorities and marginalized students. Joining clubs can help you continue to explore your identity, while building up a social network.[7]
    • Do you feel out of place? You might look for a group that will offer support, fellowship, and solidarity, like organizations for First Generation College Students, for minorities on campus, or for international students.
    • Do you feel spiritually adrift? There are very often faith-based or explicitly secular groups that cater to these feelings, as well, like Catholic, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Freethinker groups.
    • You can also find groups whose purpose is public service. If you are searching for bigger meaning in life, you might consider joining a volunteer organization that tutors at-risk high schoolers, for example, or that does community outreach.
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    Get involved in causes. Another way that you can explore your identity – and also make a difference in society – is to get involved in causes on campus. Especially these days, college campuses are centers for activism. Joining one of these causes can give you a sense of mission and also connect you to like-minded people.[8]
    • Do you want to explore your political, sexual, gender, or racial identity? Campus activist groups are usually oriented towards promoting social or political causes that can deal with these topics.
    • Activism can also take different forms. You might join a group that promotes causes you feel strongly about, for instance, like LGBTQ awareness or Black Lives Matter. You might also get involved in demonstrations, letter writing campaigns, or campus politics.
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    Socialize with peers, but don’t isolate yourself. It’s perfectly natural to feel closer to people like you, people who look, think, and identify like you. It’s also perfectly OK to socialize with these peers. Still, one of the great things about college is the diversity of the student body in backgrounds, views, and identities. Don’t be afraid to gravitate toward people like you, but avoid too much “self-segregation.”[9]
    • Self-segregation is something that all groups do on college campuses to some degree. In fact, white students lead all other groups in only associating with people like them.[10]
    • Try to be more aware of who you socialize with, for one. Take a look at your friends and peers. Do all of them look like you, think like you, and share the same opinions? You might be self-segregating a bit too much.
    • Make an effort to connect with people who aren’t necessarily like you. This can mean in background or appearance, but also in beliefs, worldviews, and political opinions. You won’t grow as a person if you live in a self-contained echo-chamber.

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Categories: Stress Anxiety and Crisis Management