February Dear Freshman
Updated: Feb 18, 2021
By: Steele Parkerson
Whether you attend a large university, a small liberal arts college, or a community college, being a student in higher education is challenging. Commitments ranging from courses, work, extracurricular activities, recruiting, and personal matters, among others, can be exhausting. Therefore, it is important that you prioritize your health and sanity by making time to engage in activities that make you feel happy, relaxed, and energized. Some would call this self-care, self-love, self-help, or even mental hygiene. You can call it whichever you prefer, but just remember that it is all about making space to preserve your well-being and spending quality time with yourself.
I remember my first year in college. I did not yet know how to navigate and choose from all the resources, programming, and plethora of activities available to students. I attended the first couple of meetings for multiple student clubs in which I was initially interested. However, I eventually stopped because I felt overwhelmed and indecisive. Instead of committing to some of those student activities, I took a total of 3 jobs on-campus that first year. While that decision was partly due to my circumstances as a low-income student, it was also prompted by my attempt to feel busy and involved — as my peers seemed to be. However, I still felt as though I was missing out on a lot of opportunities and people I could have met. I also felt unhappy quite often, because not only was I not involved in any student organization or campus community, but I was not taking proper time to do activities that I love. In other words, I was not balancing the draining time commitment spent on school work and my jobs with activities that allowed me to preserve my well-being and happiness. This is all to say that I would change a lot about my first year in college if I could go back. However, I cannot. But, I can share some tips learned from that experience with you!
Firstly, contrary to what my freshman-self believed, you do not have to be involved in five clubs to feel like you’re doing enough, nor should you just give up and not join any at all. You could start by coming up with a couple of your hobbies and interests; whether they be in sports, creativity, performance, spirituality, volunteering, organizing, social justice, or pre-professional. Afterward, you could explore some clubs and organizations on campus with aims that align with those interests. You could also venture out to explore related opportunities that would allow you to engage with the local community. After attending those meetings and getting a sense of what such commitments would entail, you could decide which of the activities bring you the most fulfillment and which groups of people create a space where you feel safe and accepted. Overall, just remember that extracurricular activities are not only meant to look good on your resume, but to also act as avenues for you to have fun, find supportive communities, and learn outside of the classroom.
Moreover, to remain sane as a college student, you will sometimes have to prioritize some things and compromise others. You might have to drop your culinary club mid-semester because your academic workload increases, or you have midterms coming up, or a family situation requires your long-term attention. Remaining sane could sometimes also involve asking your professor for an extension on that research paper that unexpected events prevented you from completing. It could be asking your boss to switch your work shift so you can finally have lunch with a friend whose company always cheers you up. Or, it could be declining an invitation to go out with friends in order to stay in the comfort of your room, watching a sitcom or reading a book. Whatever activity, or lack thereof, that you feel would make you feel the most content or the least stressed, you should try your best to prioritize. For example, you could browse through your social media feed for half an hour, finally get around to updating your journal, have a call with your grandpa, do some push ups, consume visual arts, take a break from a long study session, treat yourself to comfort food, listen to your favorite album, take a walk in the morning around the block, play video games with your high school best friend, joke and laugh to yourself, take a nap after a long class, engage in some of your favorite hobbies, or sit motionless and day dream. You name it! Whatever action would help you feel good is one that you should consider in order to relieve the stress that comes with being a college student.
Overall, aside from what I wrote here, finding fulfillment, attaining happiness, and preserving well-being in the midst of all the craze of the college experience is not simply about engaging in organized activities like clubs, or in popular self-care activities like meditation and exercising. The main idea is that you protect yourself from overcommitment, balance out the nature of your daily engagements, and allow yourself to find comfort in activities that are personally enjoyable to YOU.