Welcome to our new 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.
There are some days when I’m desperately trying to finish a problem set at four in the morning with cheeks freshly wet from a mental breakdown in my room. During these days, I can barely make it to class on time, and I look and feel like a complete mess.
There are also days when the warm rays of the sun interrupt the biting cold of Boston winters, when I wake up early enough to grab a proper breakfast, and when I actually get enough sleep to enjoy the 20 minute walk to class and smile at the people walking by me.
How do we get from the former to the latter? How do we strive to uphold the latter as a default standard as opposed to a rare and coveted exception? With the combined force of a rigorous course load, demanding extracurriculars, and the constant pursuit of summer and career endeavors, challenging days are inevitable for any college student. The objective, then, is a matter of learning how to best navigate our worst moments rather than striving to entirely eliminate them.
College is never going to be easy. I dread the weeks that are armed with deadlines and responsibilities, and even during my lighter moments, the constant nagging fear of what is to come never leaves my mind. Nonetheless, after nearly two semesters of the university life, I have found some helpful strategies that have saved me during my worst days and reminded me of why I should always strive toward the better. While I would like to emphasize that coping methods vary among individuals, hopefully some of these can work for you in your own times of struggle.
1. Find yourself a close, supportive network of friends.
I honestly don’t know how I would have survived my time in Harvard without the friends that have helped me along the way. Whether it’s a simple message checking in to see how I’m doing, help on an assignment that I just can’t understand, an encouraging talk, or a shoulder to cry on at night, friends have offered support during the times I needed it the most.
It’s easy to feel like a burden when you’re constantly reaching out for help, but it is crucial to remind yourself that you are never a burden. When our families are miles away and all we need is someone to be right next to us, we really only have each other to get through the tough times. Don’t be afraid to reach out — often, it is through our vulnerability that we can get closer to the ones we love. You can always return the favor another day because everyone is struggling, and everyone can use a friend.
2. Find an outlet — and don’t lose it.
What helps me feel better is writing or listening to calming beats (the Youtube playlist “lofi hiphop radio chill study/relax beats” usually does the trick). Even when it seems like I have to utilize every minute of my day to tackle the endless pounds of work in my to-do list, I find that taking some time to myself to destress actually puts me in a better mood and motivates me more to accomplish my tasks. There’s no use in stressing yourself out and pushing through your work when you’re not in any state to be productive. Relax, take a deep breath, and do something that you love. You do not have to punish yourself. Your mental state guides the way you work, and it should always come first in the long run.
3. Focus on the positive in all that you do.
This can be challenge especially when you’re trying to finish up an impossible assignment (in my case, a computer science problem set). I’m not asking you to fall in love with multivariable calculus or enjoy the 20 page paper you’re writing late at night. Rather, reorient your mindset when approaching any challenging task. Cozy up in your favorite study spot, and surround yourself with things that make you happy such as a warm cup of tea, soothing music, or study buddies. Engage in the material so that you find something about it that interests you; anything becomes easier and more enjoyable if you’re actually invested in what you’re learning. If all else fails, then relish the fact that this is a chance to forget about your other worries and to finally be productive and uninterrupted. You will get it done.
4. Focus on the next day.
Personally, I hate hearing the cliche, “It’ll get better”, but it’s proven to be right in most, if not all, cases. Whatever you may be going through right now, know that it will indeed get better. Tomorrow is always a new day, and a new day brings a new opportunity to make better decisions, change your habits, and create a more positive result than the last. Everyday is a chance to grow, and even your worst mistakes can offer something to learn from. A day-by-day mentality can sometimes be the only thing that gets me out of bed because as long as I can get through today, I can get through tomorrow. Who knows? Tomorrow can bring a smile.
Above all else, cherish the small pockets of happiness. Happiness is not meant to be a constant state, and you’re not failing if you don’t find yourself jumping with joy at every minute of the day. Goals don’t have to be overarching and vast because, honestly, that can be overwhelming. Make your goal getting out of bed if that’s what you need. Ultimately, college is meant to push you out of your comfort zone, expand your boundaries, and shape you into a person that can overcome what were once impossible challenges. A large part of making the best of the worst is a simple change in mindset — your circumstances may not change, but the person facing them definitely can.
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