I’ve been there too. An exam season about to kick my ass. Crippling self-doubt, overwhelmed, wondering why this all seems so much easier for everyone else. The truth is I was in a program I hated and likely suffering from depression. Even now I cringe at using the D word – depression. Am I being dramatic? Am I allowed to use this word? I mean – to some I might have seemed like I was thriving. Multiple leadership roles on campus, tons of friends, getting ready to graduate. But the truth is that getting myself to do almost anything was an uphill battle. I hated that I was struggling, and even more so I hated that I couldn’t fake it.
I told myself the subpar personal hygiene, eating poorly, and sedentary lifestyle was because I was “too busy”. This is what university life is – right? All-nighters and junk food. I genuinely believed it was all normal. I look back and wonder why I allowed myself to experience such blatant burn out. Truthfully – no one told me I didn’t have to. So as someone who works in higher education now and regularly supports struggling students, I want share this wisdom with you.
Pillars of Self-Care: Self-care isn’t always sexy. It isn’t always face-masks and meditation. The biggest reminder students need in my office is to SLEEP, EAT-WELL, MOVE YOUR BODY, and SOZIALIZE. All-nighters aren’t helpful. Period. Eat some veggies, drink some water, and take a walk break on long study days. This is all stuff we know, but truly I meet with so many students who, like me, have neglected basic needs. You are not too busy. And if you are, quit something. Yes, even that opportunity you think looks good on your resume. You deserve basic self-care. That’s right, deserve!
Make Big Changes: If you don’t like your program, change it. It doesn’t matter what your parents, friends, or social networks might think. I laugh looking back at how much I tortured myself for the idea of being “impressive”. I was a high-achieving high school student and teachers and peers expected more of me. This is the narrative I made up in my head. As if any of them gave a fuck what I was studying! When I look back I remember my electives – courses I loved, did well in, talked about to friends in my day-to-day life. I still catch myself wondering how much happier I would have been had I allowed myself to study these subjects instead. You deserve this joy!
Intrinsic Value: This leads into a big one – you are not your grades. You are not your program. You are not your academic success. For many this is not an easy one to accept. Society has groomed us for years to believe university/college is the be all and end all. And don’t get me wrong – I work in higher education and believe in its benefits. But to my core I want all students to know – your value is intrinsic. Your value does not come from your ability to find success in academia. Remind yourself of this when you feel sad, embarrassed, or nervous. Remind yourself of this when the panic sets in the night before an exam. Remind yourself of this when you need have a hard conversation with loved ones about your academic future. Your value is also not based on your job title, or how much you contribute to the economy. And heck – things are not as linear as you’ve been made to believe! You will land on your feet. Keep going!
Get Help: If you are struggling, you deserve help. Even if you think “others have it worse”. Even if you think “it’s not that bad, I should be able to do this on my own”. Even if you think “I got myself into this situation”. Counselling Services on campus is for YOU. Program Counsellors are here for YOU. Your professors want to help YOU. Reach out! You might be able to get extensions on assignments. You might be able to defer final work into the next exam period. You could choose to go part-time. Heck, you can even take a semester off! There are options. They may not look like the university/college experience you pictured – all tied neatly with a bow within 4 years. But to that I say – who cares? Genuinely, who? What external factor is telling you you need to be done at 22? Slow down, take a breath, and move forward at a pace that best works for you and your uniqueness.
I personally stressed myself out to the point of a diagnosis – not a mental health one, but physical. After years of neglecting my health and pushing myself to burnout, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that will impact the rest of my life. Stress induced. It was not worth it and could have been avoided.
Please know that you have people on campus who want to help, and that your life and happiness are worth far more than your academic challenges.
Good luck on exams! Sleep. Drink water! Ask for help. And remember – you are not your grades!
See university or college website for available counselling services and academic counselling.
http://wesforyouthonline.ca/ - Free online counselling for Ontario youth up to age 24
https://wellnesstogether.ca/en-CA - Free counselling for all Canadians
https://kidshelpphone.ca/ - Free counselling for Canadian youth up to 25