There is so much that I wish someone had told me going into my freshman year beyond the usual “study hard, make friends, and don’t forget to network.” College is much more than just going to class and socializing. It’s an incredibly difficult, character-building four years full of highs and lows. While my relatives regaled me with stories of their own college parties and wild adventures, no one mentioned the toll college would take on my mental health. How it would affect my relationships. The way it would challenge me to truly take care of myself and advocate for my own needs.
Essentially, college is a lot more than the way it looks on the surface. As many of us try to implement our New Year’s Resolutions, it’s important to think about how your fall semester went in 2019. Is there anything you wish you could have done differently? Is there anything you regret not doing? If so, you’re not alone. If given the opportunity, here’s what I would tell freshman-year me (and any current first year or transfer student):
- When love is real, you’ll know it. There won’t be any second-guessing, no midnight doubts, no tears. Love isn’t supposed to be difficult or a fight. It should be one of the easiest things in your life and bring you happiness. It should feel like coming home.
If you’re carrying a toxic relationship, whether romantic or platonic, into 2020, consider ending it peacefully. You’ll find that it will be freeing for you- you won’t have your time consumed by efforts to save a relationship that doesn’t serve you anyway. In my experience, dealing with negativity in my relationships my freshman year always spilled over into academics. It affected how focused I was, how enthusiastic I was about what I was learning, and how interested I was in putting in my best effort. Don’t let unhealthy people dictate your happiness or your level of success.
- Relationship standards or societal expectations for what a relationship should look like will only keep you tethered down long term. Love has no color, no size, no limits.
Don’t assume that you know what you want just yet when it comes to love. We’re still young and figuring things out. Go on a Tinder date with someone who, on paper, seems like the complete opposite of “your type.” Let go of your preconceived notions about what love is- you may be surprised by what you find.
- Self-care isn’t selfish at all. It’s an act of survival. It’s necessary. It also isn’t always pretty. Self-care can mean getting your nails done after weeks of personal neglect; it can also be pulling yourself out of a messy panic attack and laying down in bed.
During my freshman year, I very rarely prioritized self-care. I worked until I, quite literally, couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. I ended the year feeling emotionally and physically drained; I had worked myself into exhaustion. This year, as a sophomore, I knew I couldn’t fall into the same trap. I made a commitment to exercise, to eat healthily, to set aside time to watch TV and decompress. The result? Mentally, I feel better every single day. I have more energy, lower stress levels, and a better quality of life. Recognize the warning signs early and don’t neglect yourself and your needs. You come first, before any assignment or deadline.
- Karma works in mysterious ways, but she always works.
The positivity you put out into the world will eventually come back, even if your world seems murky right now. Everything you do will be returned to you. Similarly, if you spew hatred, only negativity will greet you. Your actions shape your world and your perception of other people. Be kind to those around you just for the sake of being nice. Let your next-door neighbors know that you’ll be having people over and the noise level may be higher than usual. Offer to walk with your friend to run errands in Harvard Square. Look out for those around you and you’ll find that the universe returns the favor.
- Taking a day off isn’t laziness, complacency, or failure. We live in a world that tells us that if we’re not moving, we’re losing. If your body needs rest, take it.
Like I mentioned, I was completely unable to relax during my first year at Lesley. I never stopped working. Even in bed, I would toss and turn, consumed by thoughts of deadlines and to-do lists. What I really needed back then was down time, a chance to rest and recollect myself. Had I taken it, I probably would have been a lot more productive and at peace. If your brain is completely shutting down, skip a class and rest. It is not the end of the world, and your professor will understand. Your mental health is of the utmost importance.
- At the risk of sounding preachy or anti-technology, your phone is keeping you away from the things that matter most. I love technology; I grew up with it and it’s changed my life and the way I receive information for the better. But it has the power to absolutely erode connections with other human beings and pull you out of the present moment.
This one speaks for itself. So much life is happening beyond your screen. Open your eyes and don’t forget to truly be present when you’re with friends and family. You’re in college. You’ll never get these four years back. Make the most of your time here and fully live all of it. You’ll want to hold onto these memories later; you’ll miss them all if you never look up.
- Saying no is okay. If you don’t want to go to the party, stay home. If you’re anxious, don’t push yourself. The urge to people-please is so valid, but it will drain you in time if you’re not careful.
I felt so much pressure as a first-year student to be active socially. I forced myself out of my room even when I felt miserable. The result? I didn’t have fun at all. Even at a social event surrounded by people, nothing could change the fact that I really didn’t want to be there. Listen to your instincts. There is a long-perpetuated idea that college students have to be partying all the time; if that isn’t you, don’t force it. You’ll end up feeling uncomfortable. Ignore what society tells you you “should” be doing and follow your heart on this one.
- Being self-aware is the most valuable thing in this world. Note your toxic behaviors and impulses and work on fixing them. It will save your relationships and make you a healthier person to be around. Similarly, know what you’re good at and pursue your skills. Offer them to the world in service.
This one is a life-long endeavor, so the earlier you start practicing it, the better. It’s important to be aware of how our behaviors and actions will hurt or better us, as well as our loved ones. Start noticing your tendencies- do you lash out at your roommates when you’re stressed? Do you prioritize socializing over studying, then receive bad grades later on? Dig deep into the reasons why you’re doing things. Do you take your stress out on others, when you’re really just mad at yourself? Could you benefit from better time-management skills? Start to analyze your own behaviors and learn more about who you are and how you can change.
- Decisions are made by those who show up. You can’t complain about the status quo if you make no effort to work to change it. Go out and vote. Advocate for the change you want to see. Use your voice and use it well.
It’s easy to complain as a student. We’re paying a lot of money for an educational experience that doesn’t always meet our needs. Instead of internalizing your anger, do something about it! Join Undergraduate Student Government and advocate on behalf of the student body. Write emails to Lesley staff and faculty. Write an article for the Lesley Public Post. Go to Lynx Forums and speak directly to Lesley’s administration about what is on your mind. It’s fine to complain, but don’t expect change to follow unless you show up and fight for it.
- The universe has plans in store for you that you can hardly imagine the scope of. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and always a reason to keep fighting-always.
For those juggling classes and a mental illness, I am here for you. I understand your fight. Many times during my freshman year, I felt overwhelmed beyond words. I thought that life would always be as difficult as it was in that moment. The truth? Life always gets better. There is never a reason to give up. You are loved. Feel free to reach out to the Counseling Center on campus if you need additional support- they are an excellent resource, offering free counseling in a variety of different modalities.
And whether you are new to Lesley or back for the spring semester, I want to wish you a very good year ahead!