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.
Entering college as a second year came with an abundance of joys — a pre-established and expanding group of friends; an understanding of the campus, teachers, and academic demands; and an overall stronger sense of belonging and community. In other words, going back to school felt like I was going home, excited to reunite with my “family” and eager to fall into a familiar routine.
However, the quarter was not without its challenges, specifically ones that targeted my mental health. Previously, I had never considered myself to be someone that struggled with mindset on a daily basis, but this year, I had to develop tools to combat the frequent negative feelings as they arose.
As 2019 comes to a close, I think there is an opportunity to reflect on what made you thrive as well as what made you struggle. Recognizing both of these components of your life will allow you to move into the new year with tangible strategies on how to continue towards being your best, healthy self. These are some of the challenges I’ve faced so far as well as how I dealt with them.
Feeling academically out-of-place
There were many days where I would walk out of the classroom feeling frankly, dumb. This feeling is a particularly powerless and destructive one, and I would ask myself why I didn’t have the capacity to make brilliant contributions like the other students did. This comparison trap led me to further question my place and acceptance at the university, and I contemplated if I fit in with my peers, who all seemed to be intellectually curious about every topic. Talking to friends about this was helpful, because they validated my feelings while reminding me that I got in to the school just as every other student did. Therefore, taking a step-back to gain perspective was essential in overcoming these periods of self-doubt. While I do not think these feelings will ever completely go away, I know that I earned my spot to be there and that people excel and struggle in different areas.
Probably one of the most common feelings in college, I would often feel that my friends were busy and pre-occupied with school, work, or other social engagements. On top of that, the competitive atmosphere of the university can often make it seem like people are only focused on the academics and as a result, are inaccessible. To combat this, I started reaching out to people first, because it is very likely that your friends are feeling equally lonely and are craving social interaction. Realizing that everyone experiences this, even if he or she seems like the most social person on campus, is an important and healthy step in dealing with this emotion. On the other hand, learning to be independent is a way to see these negative feelings as opportunistic — a challenge that forges self-improvement in the process of overcoming it. I joined more clubs and got a job this year to keep myself busier and to practice being without my familiar, close group of friends.
Another inevitable part of college, stress has been an omnipresent part of my undergraduate experience. Instead of thinking of ways to completely eliminate it, I think it has to be acknowledged and accepted. There are, however, ways to reduce, manage, and cope with it. Some things I have done are hosting movie nights or studying with friends, cooking, working out, and going off campus to do things I enjoy. On a particular challenging day this past quarter, I emailed my T.A. saying that I needed a mental health day. I was nervous to receive her response, scared that she wouldn’t be understanding or that she would think I was lying. To my surprise, she replied: I totally understand! Take a deep breath and do something you enjoy. I was grateful for her concern, and I think her advice is something that needs to be expressed more frequently, especially on college campuses where perspective can easily become lost in the craze of books, problem sets, and exams. All in all, this quarter has taught me that it is okay to not feel okay, but that my mental health needs to be a priority in order for me to truly enjoy college.
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