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.
Whatever “plan” you have mapped out for your life is going to change. That isn’t to say that you won’t get to where you want in life — you will. Just not in the way you imagined it.
When a good friend gave me this piece of advice, it became my motto, my drive, and my purpose all in one. It became a sentence that I told still continue to tell myself each and every day. With COVID-19 undoubtedly being the biggest curveball that life has thrown my way thus far, this sentence acts as my daily reminder that the unexpected scenarios, while uncomfortable, are an important part of the journey. They are our reality.
Let’s take a moment to look at the many, many curveballs of the last six months. While the C.D.C. and Coronavirus Task force seemed quite optimistic about a summer that would be less impacted by COVID, that is clearly not the case. After settling into Zoom meetings and virtual workouts, many college kids got into a groove of their shelter in place. Plus, they realized that their mom’s cooking wasn’t too bad.
But just as we were coming to terms with this “new normal,” restaurants opened for outdoor dining, baristas returned to their 8 a.m. latte-making and hitting the gym was even a possibility for some. The first meal and friend and coffee cup felt like heaven on earth — bread and butter for the table seriously never tasted so good.
But, as I’m sure you know by now, the states that opened up too quickly saw serious spikes in cases. And now there is talk of going back to state-wide shutdowns, which is never where any experts said we would be in July. Yet here we are. In other words, as America started to live semi-normally again, we were thrown back to what felt like square one.
The past six months are a perfect example of the uncertainty of life. Is the state of the world changing hour to hour? Yes. Is life as uncomfortable and fluid as ever? Yes. But why can’t we embrace that? Embrace the off-roading, make use of the detours, and dare I say, get comfortable with the uncomfortable? If you ask me, the least we can do is try.
Not only is life about perspective, but it is about readjusting our expectations as frequently as possible. Changing the road map is particularly hard for college students. Especially when we feel like our promised college experience of late night pizza and study groups is being stripped in front of our eyes. Suddenly we feel a distrust with the system, our parents and the world. Because this wasn’t a part of the plan. But if you think about it, what happens in life almost never is.
To be completely frank, I am incredibly uncomfortable with this new reality. I am terrified of the fact that I may graduate a year later than expected, or never meet some of my professors in person or never live in my sorority house. The list goes on.
After accepting the state of the world and my newfound college experience, I am trying to take a step back and focus on what really matters to me. With less places to go and people to see, I have been challenging myself to not only readjust my expectations, but to really think about my values and live accordingly.
Pre-quarantine, the outdoors were something that I took for granted. I never appreciated the sound of trees in the wind or an early evening walk past beautiful flowers. I now start most mornings by going on a long walk/hike to not only get my body moving and endorphins flowing, but to appreciate the surrounding beauty. Tuning into nature has kept me grounded and calm during this chaotic time.
Group fitness has always been a part of my routine. I can’t seem to get enough of the energy in the room whether I am running, spinning, or doing push ups. It also got me out of bed most mornings and was a great start to the day. But with no schedule of classes to attend, I found setting my alarm to open my computer and watch a teacher do a downward dog to be far from motivating. That being said, on the days that I do rip back the sheets and put on my leggings, it has been well worth it. But I will most definitely never take a SoulCycle class for granted again.
With more time at home, I have been cooking 90% of my meals which is a game changer when trying to nourish my body appropriately. With no class to rush off to, I have found that I have more time to listen to my hunger/fullness cues more than I ever have. This has helped me feel better about my body and how I treat it.
Being the night owl that I am, mornings have always been rushed, frantic and dreaded — a coffee stain on the way to school was a good day. But with less locations to run off to, I have found more time to start my day right. I make and enjoy a healthy breakfast, meditate, clean my room and usually take a walk or do some yoga. Or I at least try to do two of those things. While I know that my mornings will not be so peaceful if/when I go back to school, I am going to try to take some of these centering techniques with me for the long haul.
Friends and Family
Although I can’t see many people in-person besides my immediate family, I have decided to take this time to reconnect with my family. Going to college changes your relationship with your parents and siblings — sometimes I miss being under the same roof as them. We have a family dinner most nights where we have a strict no-phone policy. Over food the four of us reminisce, laugh, discuss and listen. I engage with my family knowing that come August, this is probably one of the last times that we will live under the same roof. As for friends, staying in touch is a no brainer but has become rather difficult. A catch-up FaceTime can take energy that we sometimes don’t have. As an alternative, I started texting a different friend every night letting them know that I am thinking of them. This only adds one minute after you brush your teeth and makes all the difference — for your friend and you.
And last but certainly not least, one value that has become increasingly important over the last six months in the relationship I have with myself. While everything I just mentioned aims to do just that, I have tried to take it a step further. To treat myself how I treat others, not less than. To not be hard on myself when everything feels out of sorts as it does today. And remembering that I will get to where I want in life, just not how I imagined it.
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More Thrive Global on Campus:
What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need
If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help
The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis