Have you noticed that Mental Health Awareness month coincides with the end of spring semester? I hope that your finals went well; but, if you’re anything like me, then maybe they didn’t. Back when I was an undergraduate, it was difficult for me to be anything but hard on myself after a disappointing test…class…semester… In hindsight, I was going through something more serious than I could acknowledge at the time; perhaps you are, too. College is brutal. Mental health suffers in the environment, where the stressors are many. Before diving into your summer plans, be they a new internship or some hardcore R&R, take some time to reflect on your semester. Better understanding your stressors may help you to feel better about the semester and may even help you overcome these challenges in the coming semesters. Need some help getting started? See the inventory below.
There’s the workload, the reading assignments, the homework, the studying — none of this is new, but the volume and subject matter density seem to be growing exponentially. This author had to completely relearn healthy study habits (because my old high school techniques were not cutting it). Speaking of healthy habits, college is a lot of scheduling (hard) and self-discipline (harder). “This is when I need to eat, and this is when I need to sleep.” Sleep! Dorm living, roommates, lack of personal space. Friends eating up “free” time. Stressful romances. Diet and exercise? Oh right, and money. Some of us may be thinking, “That’s just life,” but our freshmen may be doing all this — alone — for the first time in their lives. Overwhelming is an understatement.
I’m here to say: rough semesters happen, and it’s alright. Higher education may be the hardest four years of your life thus far, and you are doing your best. Some days, your best may be better than other days. Sometimes, your best may not compete with your colleagues’ best. It happens, it’s alright. College is brutal which is why it’s especially important to be forgiving of yourself. Once you forgive yourself for being a growing, learning human, then you can appreciate that what you learn in college is more than fact, theory, and practicum. College is an immensely complicated experience, and what you are truly learning may not be apparent while you are in it. Yes, it can get messy, but it can be positive for those who learn to manage stressors and mental health (which is one very important lesson).
So what do we do now with this long list of challenges and new found appreciation for the capacity for growth in college? Be kind to yourself and practice!. For many of us summer break is a low-stakes opportunity to practice self-care: at first it may feel scary, and it may feel silly. In my experience, those were the two quickest ways that I talked myself out of doing something that I knew would be good for me. However, a little bit of self-care goes a long way, especially if you are (as I was at the end of spring) in a self-care deficit. Start small and build up to lavishment. A bath, a gas station ice cream, a non-judgmental cry can be enough to be kind to yourself. Taking good care of yourself will not get rid of your stressors during the semester, but it may help you approach them and recover from them differently. I suppose that’s what I learned about self-care in college: I did my best. It was all I could do, and it was enough.