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Mental Health

When College Becomes “Too Much”

“Too much.” 

As a college student, I’m sure you know the feeling. It’s the end of the semester and we’re all sleep-deprived and overwhelmed. We’re all watching movies like A Christmas Prince and Christmas Vacation and holiday episodes of Friends and The Office in nostalgic anticipation of when we can return home to visit our family and friends. 

If you think you’re the only one who’s experiencing physical, emotional and mental burnout from this semester, think again. We’re all going through it, just in different ways. 

Personally, when I’m overwhelmed, I tend to isolate myself and go into hibernation, lost in essays due for class or the temptation of Netflix. I avoid talking to people as much as I can, whether it’s through keeping my airpods in while walking to avoid anyone asking me to sign their petition or make a donation, or only going to my sorority house for fifteen minutes at a time for meals so I can get right back into my private cozy space at my apartment.

The reason? After spending months of trying to keep myself in my sociable, bubbly, people-pleasing mode, it just gets to be too much; so, to cope, I’ll shut down.

Other people cope by procrastinating on assignments or skipping classes. Some of us might continue to try to keep ourselves on high-energy mode and end up exerting ourselves completely. We might develop unhealthy habits out of apathy, like eating more junk food, avoiding exercise and sleeping too much. We’re all sick to some degree at this point, and we’re ready for the New Year- more importantly- a break. 

If you feel like you’re a hot mess or a disappointment for how you’re handling so much stress you’ve built up, my encouragement to you is this: You’re doing totally fine; just keep going. 

Anyone who doesn’t feel overwhelmed is either denial or is just too used to the feeling at this point. Did you know that Generation Z has experienced more stress at the young adult age than any other generation in the past? According to the American Psychological Association, Gen Z is 27% more likely to rate their mental health as fair or poor. Apart from the stress from school, our generation is significantly more likely to be stressed about events in the news, such as mass shootings or sexual violence. 

So now you might be asking:Why am I so overwhelmed?! Why is it all too much?! 

I’ll give you an honest answer: Everything feels like “too much” because we’re doing too much. 

Just think about it. First, we’re juggling a full load of classes that include required reading and assignments, leading up to multiple huge papers and exams due at the same time. A lot of us are also involved in other clubs or organizations such as Greek life, or for me, Her Campus, that require weekly meetings and events. 

Then there are the social commitments. There’s so much pressure to keep up with friends, to make the extra effort to meet that one friend for lunch and there’s a party we have to be at that weekend because maybe that boy you’ve been talking to might be there and notice you, or that group of friends you’ve been wanting to get to know better. We have to make it seem like we’re thriving and it works because most of the time, we think everyone is. If we have the time to go out, we must seem like we have everything together, right? If we keep our Instagram feed or Snapchat story updated and make it look like our lives are easy and exciting, we’ll feel that way… right?  

And then we have to *actually* take care of ourselves… what’s self-care again? Oh right, we have to exercise regularly, eat all of the right foods, get enough sleep, take care of our skin, hair and nails so we don’t look dead inside and avoid getting bronchitis in the midst of all of the chaos.

If you think it’s a lot to handle, you’re exactly right.

The solution? Slow down. 

One day early in the semester, when I was already feeling like I was crumbling from the pressure, I looked online for quotes about dealing with stress and anxiety. As a writer, words have always been what inspires me more than anything so quotes have always been a motivating force to stay strong. After I found some I liked, I wrote them down on the page of a journal and cut them into individual slips. I have a lamp on my dresser that serves for organizational purposes that I put random things in like pens or highlighters, but I took those out and put the slips of paper inside instead. I intended to pull one randomly every time I needed a little bit more drive, but of course, I forgot they were even there most of the time.

On a side note, this lamp also has an outlet in it, which I like to use to charge my phone or my laptop. Although it probably seemed genius to whoever came up with it, it’s not the best for somewhat clumsy people like me. I will admit that there have been at least ten times when I’ve been using my phone or laptop while it’s been charging, picked up whatever device I’m using and yanked on it a little too hard, leading to the whole lamp falling over, knocking out all of the contents in the little cubbies onto my dresser or the floor, including the slips of paper. 

That happened about two days before I wrote this article and the quotes stayed on my dresser for at least a full twenty-four hours before I put them back in their designated spot. While they were sitting there staring at me however, I picked a random one up to read and it sticks with me now more than it had when I wrote it down in the first place. 

It may seem easier said than done, but it’s still true: “Smile, breathe and go slowly”. 

That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve taken from this entire semester; those three steps. As I was trying to do so many things at once to avoid FOMO, I didn’t realize that I was missing more than if I would have if I had simplified.

So, to the girl who’s trying to make it to her club meeting this afternoon, dinner at her sorority house in the evening, a night out with friends tonight with a paper due tomorrow at noon, take these words to heart: 

Smile, breathe and go slowly. 

You might not get everything done that you were intending, but remember, it’s not the end of the world if you miss one thing. We’ve all got the first step down, after so many years of putting on a fake smile so everyone thinks our lives are perfect, but most of the time we forget the other two. If you feel like everything is falling apart and you smile while trying to force everything back together, you’re not going to feel any different.

And you won’t get an epiphany from just reading this either. You have to try it. Once you do, you’ll realize that even if everything is “too much” to you, it doesn’t have to be. 

And then you’ll realize that even if you think you’re drowning, you’re not the only one, so maybe we’re all in this together after all. 

Women putting their hands together in a pile
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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Emily Allen is a student at Florida State University studying English editing, writing and media. She's from Orlando, but before you ask, she hasn't been to Disney since middle school. She's passionate about all kinds of writing and hopes to use it to inspire those around her. To find out more, you can follow her on Instagram @emily.allen.19