The Four Most Important Lessons Being a Psychology Major Helped Me Learn

Initially, when I declared a major in Psychology, I had wanted to help others. Of course, this is still the goal, but what I didn’t realize until after I’d had a few Psychology courses under my belt was that I was also going to be able to help myself along the way. The following ideas have helped me lead a more positive life and hopefully will do the same for others.

The Positives to Anxiety

Whether it’s social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or other forms, any kind of anxiety can be extremely debilitating. While these disorders have many negatives, such as excessive worrying, irritability, panic attacks, restlessness, and more, I have learned through my courses and my observations that sometimes small doses of anxiety have the potential to help us in many ways.

For instance, most people feel nervous before an exam. This is normal, as this anxious feeling is your body’s way of preparing you for a task. My concern before a test reminds me that I need to study, so I review my notes, make a study guide, and I ace that test. Without that discomfort beforehand telling me I need to get ready, I don’t believe I would perform as well. My anxiety drives me to always make a plan, sometimes a backup plan, which constantly helps me to avoid stressful situations and/or undesirable outcomes.

I’m not saying I love my anxiety or that people dealing with anxiety aren’t suffering. What I am saying is that, although there are downsides we may face in our lives, we can always try to find the positives and the benefits. I recognize that my experience with turning my anxiety into something more optimistic may be different from others’ experiences. However, thanks to being a Psychology major, I have determined that just because I experience anxiety, doesn’t mean I have to be dragged down by it all of the time.

Study Habits

I didn’t discover the best study habits until I reached college. My definition of "studying" used to be cramming right before taking a test. This worked for me in high school, but I acknowledge now that it is better to start studying days in advance. Even if there isn’t a test in your near future, it doesn’t hurt to go over your notes after class. Reading over material is valuable, but when you want to make sure you are confident with the information, asking someone to quiz you or using flashcards is the most beneficial. These techniques make you think about the answers first instead of merely reading them from your notes or the textbook.

Studying for about 20 minutes each day leading up to the test is considerably useful, especially as opposed to starting to review the night before and proceeding to stay awake until the sun rises. This leads me to my last study tip all college students desperately need to hear: get a good night’s sleep. Your brain ultimately doesn’t function as well if you’ve had few-to-no hours of sleep the night before. If you start studying days in advance, you won’t have to stay up all night cramming!

Being in Control of your Happiness

When I say you can be “in control of your happiness,” I do not mean there’s a switch inside of your brain that can turn off your depression and turn on the cheerfulness. It’s very important to realize depression doesn’t work like that, and you should never say “just be happy” to someone struggling. Alternatively, we can all decide to have better attitudes.

I learned a lot about this in a course called Positive Psychology at West Chester University. One of the main ideas from this class that stuck with me was the notion of “happiness makeup,” which is said to be 50% genetics, 10% life circumstances, and 40% intentional activities. That last portion, which is almost half of your happiness makeup, is comprised of activities that will increase your happiness. These activities could include exercising, spending time with family and friends, expressing your gratitude, or even watching your favorite show.

Exercise is a huge one, as everyone probably already knows; only 15 or so minutes on a treadmill is enough to accelerate your heart rate and make you feel better. You’ve also probably heard the expression that humans are “social beings.” This is true in that even introverts, like myself, require interactions with our loved ones to keep us smiling.

There’s also gratitude. I’ve heard this one from many of my psychology professors, all of them agreeing that gratitude is instrumental to achieving bliss. Displaying appreciation in your daily life, (for example, telling your best friends or your parents how much they mean to you), can majorly increase your happiness as well as theirs. In Positive Psychology, we had an assignment to list the things we were grateful for every day for a month or so. From this assignment, I became much more thankful for the little things we sometimes take for granted in life, like having a roof over my head or enough food to eat.

An even easier approach to increasing your happiness is simply doing anything that brings you joy. Yes, this includes binging Stranger Things or Friends on Netflix. Sometimes we all need to destress, relax, and have a laugh – there's nothing wrong with taking some time for yourself. It's healthy!

Spread Kindness

Lastly, my favorite lesson that psychology professors may sneak into their lectures is to “just be nice.” It is a simple action that more people should do. You never know what someone is going through and how deeply your actions or words can affect them. From my personal life and all of the psychology courses I’ve sat through, I’ve learned the importance of acknowledging that just because you can’t see a disability or an illness does not mean there isn’t one. Mental illnesses are all equally serious and can intensely distress someone’s life the same as a physical illness would.

If we all live by the rule to simply be nice to each other, the world would be brighter for everyone. Just flashing a smile, holding a door, or giving a hug can make someone’s day.

Again, we can’t assume what someone is going through merely by looking at them, so just be nice.


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