Column: Physically I’m fine, mentally I’m exhausted

Tests, speeches, presentations, term papers… It’s inevitable that you’re going to experience stress as a college student at some point. For some of us, though, it’s a day-to-day struggle with anxiety and other mental illness. Some days are better than others.

Recently, I left a class early because I thought I was going to have a panic attack. After a semester of piling on the stress, my mental health had caught up with me as I sat in class worrying about project deadlines.

The first time this happened was during my freshman year, and I felt guilty. Here I was, lucky enough to be in college, and I was wasting it by leaving a class. I thought I was weak. Looking back now, I can see how that logic is fundamentally screwed-up; I’m not going to learn if I can’t even focus on what’s being taught.

Now, as a leader of a student organization, I’ve realized the added pressure that many other student leaders face. The precarious balance of personal lives, jobs, classes and running an organization is enough to affect anyone’s mental health.

I never quite did master the balancing act this semester, and at times I wonder if there’s something I’m just not getting. I watch other student leaders that make it look effortless, but my suspicion is that underneath the surface they’re struggling too. A lot of us battle with mental health without admitting it. The same goes for a lot of college students who are just attending day-to-day classes.

It helps, though, to know that you’re not alone. I see you. I’m struggling with you. As finals approach, we’re reminded that it’s not always easy trying to juggle the demands of our lives while the demands of our academic career press into us more than usual. Reviewing weeks of information while we try to remember all the other looming deadlines can lead to things slipping through the cracks.

I always try to approach finals with caution because of this. I write lists of everything. I organize them based on due dates and times, and I schedule myself a stretch and snack break every few hours. At the end of the day, I quit an hour before I go to bed and give myself leisure time. I make it a point not to miss that time for myself.

Focusing on your mental health in college is the best thing you can do for yourself. For me, it’s making a cup of hot chocolate and binging TV dramas on Netflix. I have a love-hate relationship with them, but they let me unwind from days I feel like everything is crumbling underneath me. The biggest lesson that I learned is just that there’s no point in pushing yourself to your breaking point. You have to be able to help yourself before you can go out and change the world.

I like to think I’ve come pretty far from who I was my freshman year of college. I learned mindfulness techniques to help ease my generalized anxiety. I’ve developed friendships that support me, and my family can always be counted on. Most importantly, though, I’ve accepted who I am and can openly talk about it with the people around me. I still have bad days, but it’s gotten better. I’ve become stronger as a person because I realized there’s nothing wrong with me.