Four years of deadlines, reading lists, clubs, parties and late nights. How anyone manages to survive it with their sanity in one piece is a mystery. Between the caffeine, sugar, sleep deprivation and stress, studying rarely turns out to be the healthiest time of anyone’s life. For most people, this normally comes out in the form of extra weight from too many nights out finished off with take-out Chinese food. For an increasing minority, however, university and college can end up being four years of anxiety and depression.
This is how I spent my years at college. Stemming from a whole range of issues, I spent a lot of time either crying, faking or hiding my way through university. By the end of my final year, I was using anything I could lay my hands on to scratch myself, my housemate had taken away my scissors, I was scared of using knives and I was so stressed about my exams that I threw up in the library. My parents were so worried that any thought of me staying in Norwich after graduating was out of the question. I was told (yes, 21 year old me was told) that I was to move back home. I was not impressed at all! However, my forced return to my parents’ house has given me two years (ouch!) to think back over my time in college.
Having had two years to reflect, its about time that I shared some of what I learned from my own dark cave. So here goes…
Surround Yourself with Positivity
It sounds like such a cliche, doesn’t it? Like surrounding yourself with positive vibes, energy or something will make you all happy again. I’m going to have to burst that bubble; it’s really not that easy.
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So how do you surround yourself with positivity? The most obvious one is the favourite of almost every Pinterest-addicted girl I know: QUOTES! And there are so many to choose from. During my first year, I lived in halls on campus. As a big fan of colour and creativity, I covered every flat surface I could in posters, drawings and quotes. In particular, I would write out any Bible verses, quotes from books, and even song lyrics that I liked on post-it notes. These then got stuck all over my wall for me to read whenever I felt like hiding and never leaving my room again. Though they didn’t stop my depression (unfortunately they haven’t found a cure yet), those quotes were something for me to hold on to when everything else seemed to be slipping away. Paper the walls with them if you need to because when you feel like no one else understands you, there will be a quote that makes you remember just how untrue that is.
The other way you can surround yourself with positivity is by choosing your friends carefully. Everyone has those friends who believe they are the fount of all knowledge and everyone has those friends who love to “be in the know”. From experience, it’s best not to go to them when you want to be surrounded by positivity. I had a few friends like that and during one relationship, their advice definitely didn’t help. It actually led me down the wrong path with some bad assumptions.
Instead, surround yourself with friends who listen while making you a cup of tea, who are happy to just scoff ice cream with you until you feel able to talk, who can make you laugh no matter how low you feel. Friends who just want to spend time with you because you are their friend. I’ve had a few of those friends too and they are the most precious ones you will ever find.
Engage with the Big Picture
When I was struggling, my world would cave in and shrink to the size of my bedroom. I didn’t want to let anyone else in to shine a light in my little cave. At house parties, I started to drink too much. With my housemates, I started to become argumentative and mouthy. I began to avoid the Christian Union and Church because they were “too Christian”. However, there was one place where my world expanded to let other people in: UEA Trampoline Club! Three times a week, for two hours I spent time with some of the funniest, most out-there people I knew. We weren’t the closest of friends but we had great times just being ourselves, while trying to take trampolining seriously as we practiced for competitions.
So how does this help you to thrive at university or college? Taking time out to do something completely random, spending time out with people you can laugh with, asking each other totally bizarre questions. Each time you do one of those, you are engaging with the big(ger) picture around you. And every time you do that, you learn something. Those hours spent learning how to somersault also taught me how to laugh at myself, terrify myself, question myself and beat myself (my fears, not literally myself). Find yourself a hobby, friends, anything really, that will teach you how to look beyond the person you believe you are to the person you really are. After all, isn’t that what the college years are all about?
Do That Paper NOW
Yeah, you heard me. Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today. That paper that’s due in two weeks? Finish it this week. Those finals at the end of the year? Start revising now. I wish I had followed that advice when I had been at university. Maybe I could have gotten that first class degree instead of a 2:1. But more importantly, maybe I wouldn’t have become so stressed that I threw up when revising for my last exam. Though it can seem really tempting to push everything back to the last moment, doing so will just make you more stressed with less time to do your best work.
“Why?”, you may ask. Well, how do you feel when you’ve been up all night, fueled by coffee and sugar, just to finish (or even start) that 2,000 word essay due the next day? Sleep-deprived? Groggy? A not-so-hot mess? Sure, you probably feel happy initially that you’ve handed in another assignment but it’s short-lived because you’re just so tired. And tiredness feeds into every other negative emotion. More argumentative. More depressed. More anxious. Is leaving it till the last moment really worth all that? Imagine how much better you would feel handing in that essay when you’re not sleep-deprived? You might even have the energy to celebrate with your classmates!