Fresh Perspective | Then and Now

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical college experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

This time last year, I was alone in my single dorm room, with only my tears and thoughts by my side. I was a first-year student, enduring the first couple weeks of college and I felt completely lost and alone. I didn’t know how to navigate my way through college, let alone in the middle of a pandemic.

Not much has changed since then. I still don’t know what I am doing, but I’ve learned two very important things in the past year that can help all of my fellow students, not just first-years, navigate their way through college so they don’t feel as alone as I did, and sometimes still do.

Put yourself first

This is something that took me a very long time to find out and, to be honest, I am still learning how to do this. Many times I hold myself responsible for other people’s problems. I am the type of person who wants to fix things, especially issues going on in the lives of people I care most about. Whether it’s relationship issues, friend drama or just knowing people I care about are struggling, I get consumed in trying to help and be the problem solver.

But being the “superhero” in everyone else’s lives does more damage to me than I thought. I start losing focus on myself and I put more anxiety and pressure on myself because of things that are going on around me that have absolutely nothing to do with me. I catch myself not sleeping enough, fixating on the wrong things and not giving myself the self-care I need. Feeling pressure to fix everyone else is holding me back from fixing myself and my anxiety. I’ve spent many nights crying over how burnt out I already feel, but I realized I only feel that way because I am spending all of my energy on other people and not putting myself first.

I am not saying you shouldn’t care about your friends and what they are going through, it is an admirable trait to have, but a little bit of distance and separation from their problems can help you figure out your own, which in turn can help you be a better friend. Be your own superhero before you can be anyone else’s.

Put yourself in the right environment

No one can prepare you for the environment that college puts you in. Trying to balance school, extracurricular activities, work and friends fills up your time more than you can imagine, and you must put yourself in a positive environment so nothing comes crashing down on you out of nowhere.

One of the biggest pressures of college is going out on the weekends. Whether it’s at parties, bars and restaurants or school activities, there is pressure to create a social profile for yourself, and if you don’t, you may be feeling left out. If I’m being honest, a lot of us may sit around during the week miserable and anticipating the weekend to roll around. I remember at the end of last year, I was ready to go home. I was so burnt out from school and the social life I had at college, that I couldn’t wait to go home for the summer and relax. I have this same feeling now, only a little over a month into the fall semester.

To be truthful, I indulge over the weekends. I go out, hang out with friends and try to forget the week of school that just happened. I try to distract myself from school and any other issues going on in my life like work and occasional drama, only to realize that that doesn’t go away once Friday hits. I need to learn that I don’t have to go out and be social every weekend — it is draining.

I value the nights where I can just lay in my bed or watch movies with my roommates. I am getting so burnt out from trying to distract myself from everything going on around me, when in reality I’m only making it worse for myself. Going out with your friends is still fun and it is nice to be able to enjoy yourself after a hard week of school, but don’t become dependent on those few nights of distraction to make everything feel better. You can find peace in chill nights and they can be beneficial to your mental health and prevent things from crashing down around you.

I have grown a lot over the past year, but I can still see glimpses of the girl I was. The girl that felt alone at times and didn’t know what she was doing. What we are doing isn’t easy — being a young adult trying to navigate through college is difficult. But it also isn’t impossible, and I hope some of my advice helps people who feel like me know they aren’t alone and they can get through this feeling, even if I am still trying to myself.