On the whole, I remember my college years studying as an undergraduate fondly—however, as a graduate student today, I’m looking back on that time with a more thorough lense, and I can definitely see where there might have been room for improvement. As I worked hard to push through a rigorous program, my biggest regret is that I never seemed to have enough time (or rather, impetus) to curate a personal space for myself that was ever anything more than just average, or even just barely acceptable. Although the years of studying were more than “worth it” in terms of the quality of the education I received, looking back, I recognize that I made a lot of mistakes in terms of my living situation. As a student living in graduate housing, I better understand how to reprieve myself from debilitating stress; today, promoting a healthy environment and lifestyle for myself helps me to fight my bouts of depression.
Already, I feel more adept at taking tests and interacting socially with my classmates than I ever did during my undergraduate studies; fortunately, I’m crafting the environment around me to relieve myself of the anxiety-ridden years of my youth. If you’re reading this with plans of taking the plunge into the world of higher learning—or you’re taking a break to see if you’d like to head back there—I have a little hard-earned wisdom to impart unto the potential college student. Follow along to see if a few of these tips can improve your college experience, and make your days there meaningful and fulfilling, rather than a daze of stress.
RELAX, JUST DO IT
If you want a stress-free freshman year, I cannot stress enough—relaxation is key. I know that that seems about as obvious a concept as can be, but I was often surprised by how little time my packed schedule ever left me for mindful relaxation. When I first started classes, I struggled with the forced social interaction with other students. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy their company or respect them, but it was difficult to adapt to adult friendships after four steady years of adolescent relationships in high school, which generally require less foresight and conscious thought. If you’re as excited about attending university as you should be, just know that after a long day of dealing with classmates, teachers, papers, homework, and your new social circle, you’ll need a safe space to sequester yourself—a space that allows you to release the thoughts of the day with some mindful meditation. A stressed mind can go to dark places, which can lead you down difficult paths of self-doubt and self-sabotage. A clear mind can instead help you better absorb all that you’ve been paying so much to learn.
If your dorm room is like most, then it’s most likely lacking some creature comfort. Start with the body’s literal resting place: your dorm bed. Keep this space clear of any hard objects like books or laptops; strictly reserve any of the materials that you reserved at the library to your study desk. You really want your bed clear so you can collapse onto it after a long day. When I was a freshman who’d get so exhausted that I needed to crash mid-door swing, I suffered many a contusion from not clearing my bed before I’d let my body slam onto my messy bed’s duvet—and while we’re on the subject of blankies, only purchase those of the highest quality. You need to trust that you can flop onto your bed and immediately warm up, and get comfy and cozy. The more comfortable you are, the better you can relax, and the better you can perform in class, or socialize with new friends.
If you’re experiencing mental fatigue, most times that’s just a sign that your body is incredibly fatigued, too—and your brain can keep chugging away for much longer than your body can. During times of stress, we often make choices that we’d never make if we were well-rested and relaxed. To meet deadlines, we keep our brain and body running at full speed for longer than we should, and that’s when we burn out. You don’t need to suffer needlessly, however. If you recognize the signs of “burnout” in yourself, remember that there are myriad strategies for mitigating fatigue. Make sure to hydrate, eat balanced meals, and sleep regularly.
LIVE A LIFE OF SUBSTANCE
College is filled with them: “study aid,” alcohol, party drugs, and a host of other dangerous substances that can seriously hinder your mental and emotional growth. I’d like to point out that as you’re pointedly filling your mind up with as much knowledge as your professors can muster, the absolute last thing your brain needs is for you to numb it with drugs—substances that will ultimately lead to either addiction or total mental collapse if left unchecked. If you think you’re teetering on the brink (or if you’re already standing at the precipice, looking down the freefall below) understand that you’re not alone. Reach out to the mental health professionals at your school—most institutions will provide you support for free. If you’re armed with the strategies of success and are open enough with family and friends to garner their support, you can o’erleap this hurdle too.
To ensure a successful four years of learning, learn first what best helps you learn, and remember to reach out to those who want you to succeed.