It's that time. There is no turning back. You are four months in and you knew final exams were "a thing". You just didn't know how much of a "thing" they were.
I am guessing right about now your mind is like a funnel with liquid sloshing all around and it is all going down the spout soon; it may even take you with it because your thoughts seem to have a mind of their own. You want the sloshing to stop but you haven't a clue how to begin. You can't figure out how to manage your study time, how to balance your social life, how to take smart study breaks or how to stop stressing. This is because you are a freshman in college. No one told you these trivial things. No one warned you that some days you'd be scared and feel like a failure. This is because life in general does not come with a manual.
College life, especially, is not something you were forewarned about, right? I mean there are pluses about being independent and out from under your parents' grips, but what about the class rigor, the need for a healthy balance, the lack of sleep, the sense of not belonging to "my people", the stress, the grades, the deadlines, the pressure to perform, the roommate issues. "OMG. I can't do this!"
Guess what? You CAN do this and you WILL. I'm going to show you some mental shortcuts on how to manage your thoughts this time of the year. When you come back to college in 2019, your perspective on life will be slightly different than what it is at this very moment. Will you still feel the liquid sloshing in the funnel? Of course! But, you will have a changed mindset and will never think about a funnel again.
1. Life is about movement. Life is fluid. Life is about learning and changing and growing. Guess what? You are right where you need to be at this time in your life. Embrace this position and feeling of uncertainty because realistically, you are only at the beginning of your journey. There is no need to rush this process. Stay focused on the things around you each day - yes, the small things. This will keep your thoughts and feelings real and grounded - and grounded keeps your perspective free from expectation and criticism.
A great visual to help with this is to imagine yourself being a bird on a wire looking down at your life as a college student. What will you see? Will you see tons of worry and anxiety for something that is a normal existence at your age? Will you see a person who is participating in life with excitement or with fear? What will you do to be intentional in your life? Intention keeps you directed and focused on values that are important to you. Walk with conscientiousness, but also with rationale about life as a student.
2. Striving for success is one thing, but doing it with thoughts of perfectionism is another. Every student has to be concerned about grades. No student wants to disappoint their parents. And, most students want to prove themselves. But, this is possible without feeling like you ARE your grades! There is a disconnection between the two. It is not all-or-nothing. Making satisfactory grades or even excellent grades does not define who you are. When you focus on what goes wrong, give little credit to what goes right, and blame yourself for less than perfect grades, you are molding your mind for self-criticism, failure, and you are planting a seed for anxiety.
We call this black and white thinking or polarized thinking- when we can only see things in limited ways, with no in between. An effective way to help with this is to face your fear of failing. Catch yourself when you are intensely centered on failing and ask yourself “why does it mean so much to me that I perform at the highest level?" "How does this feeling relate to experiences in my past?" Are you afraid of not knowing how to handle the stress that accompanies a sense of failure? What would you tell your best friend if he or she was feeling less than perfect? Slowly start shifting the distorted thoughts back to the present moment each day and remind yourself that you are resilient and worthy of enjoying good thoughts and having fun experiences.
3. Where is the fun while you are a student? College students struggle having fun. Blame it on social media, peer acceptance, whatever, but college students forget to incorporate stupid fun into their lives. What if your pet had no chew toys or chase toys? What if your grandparent had no hobbies? What if your baby cousin could never go to the playground? You need play, fun, and mindless activities as a stress release. You don't know it, but allowing yourself to be spontaneous (out of your comfort zone), giving yourself permission to do silly activities, and inviting others to join you is therapeutic to your existence. Your brain might be fully developed (or almost), but it needs a break to play. Use your five senses and engage in activities with no rules or little purpose. Examples are (even at your age): hoola-hooping, Frisbee throwing, art, music, eating, sleeping, nature, venturing, writing, building, and exercising. Concentrate of being and not doing.
Throughout your journey as a college student, do not forget the things you value most in life. Remind yourself often that you are in a four-year period of a long life. This position is temporary and there is an end to any pain and struggle you are feeling. Each day must be spent with purpose, yet with a grounded connection to who you are and who you want to be. The small things in life really guide and protect you. It is okay to be small. You can and you will be big one day soon.