Thrive on Campus//

Comfort With Discomfort

What does it take?

Mark Fast by Emily O'Brien
Mark Fast by Emily O'Brien

Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Most of the advice intended for students is based on “putting yourself outside of your comfort zone” or “thinking outside the box.” While the specific meaning or application of these concepts suggest very different things depending on where and by who they are being said, the underlying concept is the same; try something new.

This can be exciting. The concept of trying new things and gaining experience is one that college students want to chase almost every day of their lives. What becomes difficult is once the chasing has commenced… when it comes time to sit down and process the situation you have placed yourself in, and what your next step will be.

In the past month, I have found myself flying to another country, meeting people that I had no clue existed, and attending events I used to only read about in the latest issue of whatever fashion magazine I could pick up. Along with the intense wonder and excitement of these new things came nerves, and anxiety. Uprooting, even for only three or so months, is very different from travelling shortly and knowing the home that you will be returning to.

Ideally, I would provide a solution to the nerves and anxiety, but the truth is that navigating something entirely new sometimes becomes a series of short-term solutions and immense reflection.

When I first moved, the days were filled with adrenaline and the need to get settled in. What I failed to realize was that getting settled into a new country required a lot more mental preparation than I had expected.

After the first two weeks, I began to process just how far I was from my base in New York City. Starting the spring semester, what worried me the most was how I would further my career if I was halfway across the world without any sort of permission to work in the United Kingdom.

So I decided to take on a goal I had set for myself in the fall. I was in London in the spring, why not actually try and go to London Fashion Week?

The goal gave me something to focus on while I worked toward managing any anxiety and emotional stress that came with moving by attacking a main source of the issue: I did not want to feel like I was placing anything on hold while I was abroad.

I was going to London Fashion Week.

Naturally, that is not how Fashion Week works. I was determined, but I needed to take steps toward making the goal a reality. I knew I needed to step out of my comfort zone, but I was lost as to where I was supposed to begin.

So I did what many girls living with five of their friends would do — I asked around for someone to do it with me.

If there is one piece of advice I could definitively give in this situation, it would be to find someone who experiences some aspect of what you might feel just as much as you do to accompany you. Being able to work towards a goal with someone I felt comfortable with was what encouraged me to continue putting myself out of my comfort zone in a way I had never quite done before.

Through the madness, glamour, crowds, and 10-hour days full of photoshoots and walking, I tapped into a freedom that I had been too reserved to previously explore. I learned that fashion week is not only about the designers and tagging every show you went to on Instagram, it is about bringing people with the same love together from all around the world. More importantly, it is a gathering of everyone brave enough to place themselves out of their own comfort zones and explore what was beyond their direct line of sight.

As I was preparing to leave the United States for five months, I had a dream of returning a new and improved version of myself — someone who was ready to continue achieving in bigger and more significant ways than before. Truth be told, there was no way I could have known exactly what this entailed until I stepped foot into fashion week and navigated one of the city’s largest events.

However, that is not to say that my dream cannot be achieved.

Finding the encouragement to “put myself out there” and chase a goal that I had set without thinking as far into planning as usual reminded me how capable I am of channeling conviction into an extremely short-term goal. Reaching for something unplanned from time to time compelled me to embrace all aspects of freedom, rather than being too nervous to seize it and nurture the passion that inspired me to bring myself into an unfamiliar situation in the first place.

Similarly, as many cannot fathom exactly what it takes to build a significantly new and improved version of themselves, perhaps there is one thing that can be said: It does take the clichéd “putting yourself outside of your comfort zone” or “thinking outside the box” to begin to understand one’s is capabilities. Anyone can shatter the ceiling once they find their strength to do it.  

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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