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No one likes being uncomfortable. In fact, many of us go out of our way to avoid uncomfortable situations, interactions, or places; myself included. Since my junior year of high school, I have had generalized anxiety which makes things more difficult than they used to be. The world became full of things that made me uncomfortable, more so now that I had an anxiety disorder. Although college can bring up many of those anxieties, I have managed to make it comfortable. But, while trying to make myself more comfortable, I have avoided situations. Now, starting the second semester of my sophomore year at Virginia Tech, I have come to learn that in order to be who I want to be, I need to step outside my comfort zone and get comfortable doing it.
Approach insecurities but avoid comparison
When I first started to venture out of my comfort zone, I found myself comparing to what my friends at Virginia Tech were doing. Before this semester, I was not involved in any clubs, was not participating in campus events, and had a very small friend group, a lot of whom I knew from high school. When I looked at the people around me, I saw presidents of clubs, people involved in multiple social groups, and people who jumped into any and all opportunities. Comparison can point out where we may be lacking, but at the same time it can stunt any productive movement forward. There is a large difference between harmful comparison and constructively approaching insecurities to better yourself. Approaching insecurities means noticing when and what makes you feel anxious or insecure, and setting goals to approach these situations in a healthy way. I knew that there were social situations that I avoided because they made me anxious, but after working hard and with lots of practice, I feel prepared to handle those situations. When I compared myself to my friends, I felt more hopeless than motivated, but when I sat with my anxiety and took a deep look at what was holding me back from saying yes to opportunities, I felt empowered to step outside of my comfort zone.
Big ideas, small steps
Make a list. Mark your calendar. Sign up for anything that sounds remotely interesting. I love making lists and more importantly, I like crossing things off those lists. Making a list can make it feel more probable and can help you narrow down ideas to what you really want. If you don’t have a calendar, now is the time to get one. Before I had a calendar, I was terrible at making plans and finding time for new activities. Taking classes in college can feel busy enough, but when you try to add new things like clubs, and extracurriculars, it can be easy to lose track of time. Adding these new interests to a calendar is an easy way to practice time management and has allowed me to be more successful in school and in trying new activities. For me, joining clubs in the middle of the year seemed like an impossible feat, especially when I began to feel anxious about being in a large group with people I had never met. Signing up for an interest meeting is a great place to find out more information about an organization and can be less intimidating when done with friends. My friend invited me to go with her to one of her club meetings and I ended up joining. Going with friends can seem more achievable than jumping into a new club all on your own. Instead of diving headfirst into a new thing it may be more productive to take small steps and to work through it with people you trust.
Know your limits, but know when to push them
Knowing where your comfort zone begins and ends is extremely important. It gives you a place to start that will be more helpful than harmful. We all have different goals and we all have different starting points. This semester I added a dance class to my schedule, because while I knew that it was going to make me uncomfortable and challenge me, I knew that this was something I really wanted to do. If there is something that interests you, but anxiety is holding you back, that might be the time to push past the limits and the comfort zone you have created for yourself. Knowing what your limits are means also knowing when to set aside time to rest and recharge. Striving for new opportunities will not only add to your schedule, but without a healthy balance, they could also add to your stress. It is crucial, especially in college where we are surrounded by stressful situations, to find time when you can recharge. Getting necessary nutrition, exercising daily, meditation, and sleeping right are all things that are important but in college it is easy to get what is most important mixed up. Finding time to recharge will give you more energy to push past your limits.
Your future self will thank you
I went to a networking event called “Mingle Like You Mean It” a few weeks ago at Virginia Tech. I was so nervous before the event that I almost cancelled. Looking back on the event, I learned many skills and tactics that will be useful for my future. Although going to the event was challenging, it was more rewarding when I reflected on all the things I learned. Many times we grow when we are challenged. It can be easy in college to grow comfortable with where you are, but it is also one of the best times in our lives where we are exposed and open to so many opportunities to grow. Things that may seem simple for a lot of people, require a lot of courage for others. Stepping outside of my comfort zone is a daily struggle, but every time I do, I feel more comfortable looking for more opportunities that are building me into my best self.
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