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Wellness > Mental Health

Balancing Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone and Protecting Your Peace

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at PSU chapter.

There’s this interesting, contradictory line that we all seem to have to walk in college.

We’re young, we live on our own in a town surrounded by our friends, and this is our time to live it up and make mistakes. However, we also need to take care of ourselves.

Between balancing homework, extracurriculars, jobs, classes, friendships, relationships, cooking, cleaning and everything else that comes with being both a young adult and a college student, it is critical to set aside time to relax.

It’s also important to take care of both your mental and physical health. Time with friends is a form of self-care that can be wonderful for your mental health.

However, if what you usually do with your friends is hit the bars, drink too much and you consistently aren’t getting enough sleep, this can take a horrible toll on your physical health. There needs to be balance.

You may want to join a new organization on campus that you believe could be an amazing experience for you. It offers so many new opportunities, it is filled with amazing people and you think it could really enhance your college experience.

However, your schedule is already packed and adding a new extracurricular would mean either cutting down on hours at work, quitting another extracurricular or not having enough time to go to class and get your homework done.

So, how do you decide? How do you differentiate between stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to the breaking point? How do you choose if you’re protecting your peace or playing it too safe?

It’s important to run through a little checklist while you make these decisions.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Sometimes it’s helpful to run through a worst case scenario.

Let’s say you have a big test tomorrow and want to study/relax tonight, but your friends want you to go out with them. Play a game of worst case scenario!

Worst case scenario if you go out: you don’t get enough sleep or time to study and you completely bomb your test tomorrow. Worst case scenario if you stay in: you might miss a fun night with friends.

You have to choose your priorities. It’s also important to remember what is a one-time-only opportunity and what you’ll have an opportunity to do again.

The Basement and your friends will be there next week, but an opportunity to make up for a failing grade may not come around again. However, it might be the last semester of your senior year and one bad test isn’t really going to affect your GPA or job prospects, but making memories with your friends while you can is important to you.

Decide if your worst case scenario outweighs the best case and vice versa, then decide from there.

If you’re not sure about going to a movie night at your friend’s house or staying home and doing homework, play worst case scenario: Can you get your homework done another time, or will you be taking a major hit to your grade by not doing it? Could you do homework at the movie night? Are movie nights a regular occurrence, or is this a special opportunity to spend quality time with friends? What is the worst that could happen if you go and the worst that could happen if you don’t?

listen to your body

It’s important to take care of yourself. Sometimes you’re just feeling a little torn between a night in your comfy bed and a night out with friends, but you could go either way. But sometimes, your body NEEDS rest and you need to listen.

I get horrible FOMO, so last semester I would push myself even when I was exhausted beyond belief to go to anything my friends invited me to.

I ended up with a horrible sleep schedule, sick every other week and suffering through my 7 a.m. shifts at work. My friends assured me that I would not have missed out on anything and that they would not have loved me any less if I stayed home to take care of myself.

Know when you can “rally” and when you need to just take care of yourself. You’ll know. Just don’t push too hard.

are you doing this for you or because it’s expected of you?

This is something that my fellow people pleasers might relate to.

Let’s say your friends are trying to convince you to rush when you were really never interested before and you agree. Are you doing it because you want to step out of your comfort zone and try a new group of friends in college or are you doing something that doesn’t feel like you because you want to make your friends happy?

It’s important to ask yourself if what you’re doing feels authentic to you.

Freshman year, it felt like every girl on my floor was rushing and I admit that I felt a little left out watching them bond over a shared experience, get the cute door decorations and get excited for their big/little reveals. However, rushing did not feel authentic to me.

Instead, I auditioned for and joined The Singing Lions. Within one month, I ended up getting a group of best friends, going on a spring break trip with them to Nashville and New Orleans and I still got the cute big/little reveal that I felt I was missing out on watching my friends rush.

By doing something for myself rather than doing what was expected of me, I’ve found my favorite people and had so many incredible experiences with them over the last year. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been because I fought the urge to people please and did something that I wanted to do instead.

do you feel safe and comfortable with this situation?

This is the most important thing to ask yourself when you’re walking the line between stepping out of your comfort zone and protecting your peace.

Penn State is undeniably a party school. There is both a party culture and a hookup culture that can be hard to navigate as a young college student.

The most important thing you can ask yourself is if you feel safe and comfortable. Trust your gut.

Peer pressure is a real thing. It’s important to set boundaries with yourself early about what you’re comfortable with.

You may be comfortable smoking weed if you know the source and trust the people around you. However, when a stranger at a busy party hands you an edible and you don’t know where it came from, how much is in it, or if it is laced with anything, that is not a safe situation. In that moment, you need to protect yourself.

Hookup culture is a huge part of college campuses across America and has been since the 1970s. For some people, a casual fling can be fun, empowering and a great experience.

It can be part of getting to know yourself, your sexuality, who you are and what you like/are attracted to.

However, for other people, casual flings are a terrible experience. Having an intimate experience with someone without the obligations of a romantic relationship is a dream for some, but a horrible and traumatic experience for others.

And of course, there are risks wrapped up in casual flings such as STIs and unplanned pregnancy. Especially when considering these risks, it is important that you do not let other people convince you to do something that makes you feel unsafe and uncomfortable.

You need to make these decisions for yourself so that you know you are comfortable with whatever you choose, independent from the input of others.

People will try to tell you that casual hookups are a part of the college experience, that getting blackout drunk every weekend is expected college behavior and that if you do not do these things you are missing out.

For some people, this is the college experience and it’s a really fun and exciting time. But if these things make you feel unsafe and uncomfortable, forcing yourself to push your own boundaries to feel a part of Penn State culture will not be fun.

Forcing yourself to hook up or to overindulge in drugs and alcohol when you aren’t enjoying the experience will just leave you regretful and resentful of your college experience.

You need to spend time with yourself learning who you are and what you like, then lean into that. Embrace it and know that there is no shame if your ideal Friday night is staying in to bake and listen to a podcast and there is no shame if it’s going out and finding the hottest person in the party to take home.

Both are valid, both can be forms of self-care and both are important parts of your college experience as long as you are safe and comfortable.

Make sure that when you are looking to “step out of your comfort zone,” it is still in a realm of comfort and happiness for you.

If you have always loved to read but never tried writing before, maybe joining a creative writing club would be a great way to step out of your comfort zone but still do something that feels like you and that will make you happy.

If you have always had horrible stage fright and nothing makes you more anxious than performing in front of a group, auditioning for an a cappella group probably would not be a good choice for you.

People might tell you “try something new, get out of your comfort zone”, but causing yourself needless anxiety and stress is not a good way to branch out in college. When making decisions like this, it’s important to know yourself and to protect your peace.

Emma is a third-year Elementary and Early Childhood Education major at Penn State University. When she's not writing, you can usually find her singing, reading, painting, going on walks, hanging out with friends/her incredible boyfriend, and drinking iced chai lattes. Outside of Her Campus, Emma is the President of the Penn State Singing Lions, a Students United Against Poverty Ambassador, a member of the Phi Eta Sigma honors fraternity, and works at an after-school program.