Post written by Rogin Farrer.
The other day I was talking to a freshman who was having some trouble adjusting to college life.
He said that he felt depressed and alone. He didn’t know how to make friends, he couldn’t find the motivation to complete his assignments, and his parents’ support was non-existant. In fact, his mother was pushing anti-depressants on him.
His story struck a nerve in me, and I think it would for a lot of people. According to a 2010 survey of more than 200,000 incoming freshmen, 52% reported that their emotional health was “above average” or “in the highest 10%.” 1 That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you think that only 48% of freshmen feel that they’re emotional health is average at best. Suddenly it doesn’t so good.
My freshman year wasn’t easy. Going into the first semester I expected to make friends pretty quickly. I mean, we’re told that they’re the best years of our lives.
In actuality, I spent most of that year feeling alone. As an introvert, putting myself out there proved especially challenging.
Today I want to discuss real, practical, actionable strategies to combat the ‘black dog’ while you’re in school. These are steps you can do today to get out of your funk.
Banish the black dog
Take control of one thing.
If life starts to feel like it’s unraveling around you, take control of one thread. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big thing. For me, it was my diet. It could be as small as personal hygiene, keeping a clean room, or exercising consistently. Build on those small successes and expand into the larger elements of your life.
When was the last time you took a walk outside… just to walk outside? In spite of our big brains, we’re still animals that need nature in lives. Unfortunately we get so busy with our term papers and labs that we tend to forget about it. Go take a walk, and if you can try to get away from civilization.
Get some sleep
If college has taught me anything, it’s that sleep is so incredibly vital to well-being. It might be laughable to suggest getting ≈8 hours of sleep every night, but make sleep a priority. When you have the proper amount of rest, your perspective on everything changes.
Cap off your days with good habits
Start your day off right. The first minutes of waking sets the tone for the rest of your day, so make a routine that’s relaxed and puts you in a good mood. Brew up some good coffee. Review your goals for the day. If you’re religious, read a few verses. Just do something that makes you happy.
Also, end your day on a happy note. Meditate for a couple of minutes. Write in your journal. Drink some tea. Read a book. Ending your day right sets you up for more restful sleep.
Write a gratitude journal
What comes first? Happiness or gratitude?
According to the research of Brené Braun, a psychologist best known for her TED talk, the people that described themselves as living a joyful life are those who actively practiced gratitude. The people that made a daily habit of expressing gratitude experienced more happiness in their lives.
Try this: everyday, write down three things you’re grateful for. Or one thing. Make an alarm for it on your phone so you don’t forget.
Eat healthy food
Like sleep, the stuff we put into our body has a dramatic impact on our health and subsequently our mental state. I find that carbohydrates make me tired and sluggish, which play into the way I feel. Experiment with the kinds of food you’re eating.
Get off Facebook
If you’re a habitual Facebook user, try giving it a break. When we’re not in a good place emotionally, browsing Facebook tends to make us feel worse because we compare ourselves to all the impressive and wonderful things are friends are doing.
“Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to others’ highlight reels.”
Check out this post I wrote about going Facebook-less in college.
Consider your school
Is it something about your school that’s making you unhappy? If it’s the campus atmosphere that’s stifling you, think about transferring. Just remember: where ever you go, there you are. If you transfer hoping for a new start, remember that your habits follow you. Think critically about whether your struggles stem from the school or something more personal.
Ask for help
Have you tried your school’s counseling center? The counselors there are trained specifically for the college age group, and help other students with struggles just like yours. If you’ve never talked with a therapist before it might feel weird, but it really isn’t a big deal. My school’s counseling center reported that roughly 50% of the student body uses their services at some point in their career. Try it and see if it works for you.