Putting Yourself First: A College Student’s Advice on Wellness During Times of Stress

Tags: Federation, Young Adults, Teens

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by Catherine Horowitz, Oberlin College student

If I could choose one word to characterize life for young adults right now, it would be uncertain. Being a college student is always uncertain; there is so much up in the air about our futures at all times. Living through a global pandemic only adds to the stress and uncertainty of exams, finding job opportunities, keeping on top of tasks, and just navigating life as a student.

In college there is a lot of pressure to achieve. Internships, leadership positions, good grades, and other things expected of us dominate our expectations for ourselves and our college experiences. I often feel like I’m expected to go above and beyond in all of these different elements of my life, and that if I don’t do so I won’t be meeting the expectations set for me — expectations to make the most of my college experience and succeed as much as I can.

Lately, however, I have been trying to focus less on expectations others have of me and expectations I have for myself, and more on what I, personally, need to take care of myself. This is a challenge because so much of our environment around us is focused on success, and it’s difficult to get out of the mindset of always achieving what so many people expect from us.

During exams, I try not to prioritize putting everything I have into reaching the best possible outcome and meeting expectations, but to instead listen to myself. What do I need right now? What will put me in a good place mentally, emotionally, and physically? There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, or a step back. I often hear people saying that you should reward yourself when studying; for example, getting a snack or taking a break if you study for a certain amount of time or get a certain amount of work done. This is a really good tactic, but lately I’ve been trying to focus less on doing a certain amount of work or achieving a certain milestone. Instead of thinking about my own needs afterwards, I consistently listen to myself and what I need in the moment.

The summer before my junior year, I made the decision to take a gap year instead of returning to college. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, and I found myself constantly doubting whether it was the right one. If I took a gap year, I would be falling behind my peers, not graduating on time, not focusing on constantly moving forward. But what I needed was to take a break, to not devote my energy to what I “should” be achieving but instead to what was going to allow me to navigate living in a global pandemic as best as I could. During my gap year, I have realized that I don’t need to measure my worth through my success or how much I achieve. My values and priorities have changed— I still have high expectations for myself and listen to the expectations of others. I have just learned that it is equally important and acceptable to take a step back as well.

Catherine Horowitz is a third year student at Oberlin College majoring in English and Religion. She is a board member of Oberlin Hillel and Oberlin Student Theater Association, as well as a tour guide for Oberlin Admissions.

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