The start of the new semester is always exciting, especially for all the freshies. As many have never attended university before, it’s important to address one thing first: your mental health. Being honest, university life will get stressful. At some point you will have to deal with dozens of deadlines, group projects, tests and essays. Also jobs, relationships and personal problems. Oh, you’ll need time for your social life, hobbies and probably household chores too. Then your schedule feels too full, you start to get overwhelmed and things can quickly escalate. That’s when (if you pay enough attention) you can see students having silent breakdowns, often, extremely silent ones.
And that’s what happened to me last year.
Winter semester 2019, I found myself crying in the 1st floor toilet after leaving the class literally in the middle of a presentation. It was as dramatic and awkward as it sounds. I just couldn’t do it. The ins and outs of the breakdown don’t really matter. The point where things got harder, I knew I wasn’t alright, but still I didn’t say a thing about it hoping that I would feel better at some point.
Well, that rarely happens.
After getting out of the toilet I bought a döner, a bottle of wine and went home to cry. My coping mechanisms weren’t great too. My professor allowed me to choose another topic for my presentation, and I chose “copying with stress and anxiety at university” just because sometimes it is nice to add some irony to it.
But his presentation made me notice how everybody was struggling too. We often think that everybody is doing great, or that at least they have their life together. In reality, everyone is just trying to cope as best as they can.
There are dozens of coping strategies around, I’ve probably tried way too many myself. Unfortunately, there’s no 100% efficient step by step guide on how to feel better, and most people wouldn’t actually follow it if there was one.
That’s why I’m just here to say one single thing, the one that has helped me the most:
I was feeling awfully overwhelmed on the presentation day, but the people that saw me that way were exceptionally kind: they were worried, and just wanted to help me out. Which comes as a surprise, but at the same time, it shouldn’t. Being vulnerable actually bounds people together, as we are all on the same boat, the person right next to you might be feeling the same thing as you. You might think that being honest will just make you ashamed and embarrassed, but in reality, it sets you free in ways you don’t really expect. How we feel and deal with our emotions varies, but the truth is that most people can relate and understand what you are going through, and my bet is that they will want to help you somehow.
Obviously, you might want to just “not deal with it” right now by ignoring your struggles. The problem is: you are already dealing with it; your issues don’t go away because you’re not talking about them. They are still there, waiting for the next opportunity to show up, as an uninvited guest who actually never left the house.
The solution for me was to be as real and honest as possible to myself first. I started to ask the uncomfortable questions. What am I avoiding? What are the things I don’t want to talk about? Why am I doing what I know causes me harm?
This might be a painful process but it’s not supposed to make you feel bad. Being real is also knowing that you are a human being, and you will struggle. Being honest doesn’t work if it doesn’t come with kindness too: the kindness you would show to the person you love the most, the same kindness you may use towards yourself. When you understand that it’s natural to be going through whatever you’re experiencing, then it’s easier to open up to other people. Although some courage is required to do that, the outcome really pays off.
When you reach out to your professor because it’s being too much for you. When you ask your classmates for help. When you are able to say “no” to the thing you don’t really want to do. When you are able to talk to that person about something that has been bothering you. That’s when you’re being real, honest and kind enough to acknowledge the problem, accept it and do something about it.
The thing about mental wellbeing is that you have to be truthful, open and vulnerable in order to make things better. We actually need the help and support to get through this. So help yourself as you would help a friend, and don’t be afraid to ask for it too.
Ps: if you need any counselling, or psychological assistance from the university, you can always contact Prof. Ella Salome Roininen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Celinne De Paula, Marketing & Communications