Stress is inevitable on a college campus. Tests, essays, work-study jobs, interviews. Sometimes, it feels like the “best years of your life” are actually the “most stressed years of your life.” And everyone has an opinion on what you should do to de-stress. Some people swear by exercise, others advocate for hot tea and Netflix, and some say sleep is the only answer. But, college can feel doubly difficult because not only do you have so much to do, but you also have so little time to do it.
What do you do when faced with this seemingly impossible cross roads? My advice: stay present.
When I was in high school, everyone told me that senior year would be the best year yet. But, when I actually got there, I spent an entire year worried about my first year at college. I fretted away a year of my life and I didn’t stop to enjoy the year I was actually living. It seems obvious, but we live in the present, not the past or the future. While treasuring the past and planning for the future are valuable, we must remember to actually live our present lives. If we let our daily stress and worries about the future get the best of us, we risk losing out on the wonders of now. Sure, you have an impending Econ exam that is going to crush your spirit and your GPA, but your friend joined you for a study session and brought you a free coffee. Appreciating small moments like this can help you feel more grounded in the present. If you’re more grounded, you’re better able to focus on what your need to accomplish and you’re more likely to be successful. It’s a win-win situation. Plus, a year from now, you’re more likely to remember your considerate friend than question #3 on your Econ exam. Plus, there is more to the college semester than tests. Whenever I feel like all I’ve done recently is school work, I look for ways to burst out of the Penn bubble, like spending time with friends, exploring Philadelphia, trying new restaurants, going to concerts, and adoring cute city dogs. If I let myself get carried away with stress, if I live too far in the future by worrying about all the things coming up, I would never appreciate these big and small moments that make me happy. But, being present can be difficult. It is a learned skill, just like soccer or calculus. Here are some ways I practice being present:
●Eat lunch outside. This depends on the weather, of course, but eating outside lets me clear my head and gives me space to look out at nature. Penn’s campus is gorgeous and I love to eat on a bench near the library and look out over College Hall. And, no matter where or what you eat, take time to savor your food. Whether it’s sushi or PB&J, enjoy every bite. This will help you relax and you will get the fuel you need to conquer your day.
●Take deep breaths as you walk home. Walking home is the perfect opportunity to slow down the mad rush inside your brain. As you walk (or ride the bus), try to take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Class is over. Homework has yet to begin. Enjoy this moment in between responsibilities and use it to clear your head for the next task.
● Look at birds. Or squirrels. Or dogs. Or babies. Take a minute to observe your surroundings and enjoy them. Walking through Philadelphia, there is always something to see and the more you can view these sites as fun additions to your day rather than obstacles on your way to Wawa, the better you will feel.
● Spend time with friends. This is crucial. When I am stressed, I lock myself away in my room and despair about just how very stressed I am. As you can imagine, this doesn’t help much. Seeing your friends will remind you that you aren’t alone and you will probably share lots of love and laughs. Laughter really is the best medicine when it comes to stress. If you don’t have much time to spare for socializing, study for exams with friends. You might get distracted a few times, but the benefit that spending time with others will do for your brain far outweighs any lost time.
I really wish that someone had told me all of this when I was in high school. I regret that I let so much time race by me while I worried about something that was months away from happening. Now that I’m a senior in college, I want to enjoy my last months in school. Sure, I still stay up late worrying about what jobs to apply for, what neighborhoods to live in, and if I will pass my astronomy exam. But I am learning how to take a deep breath, look around, and appreciate all of the good flows through each and every day.