How to Handle the Inevitable College Breakdowns
College can be rough. You and all your new friends have just gone from high school, where your main responsibilities were “All this reading Mrs. Johnson assigned,” “Maybe ten hours a week at Dairy Queen,” and “How many Oreos can I fit in my mouth and not choke?” Then college hits and you have 100 pages to read, ten hours at your work-study job, a ten minute speech to write and practice, a biology lab to prepare for, and four hours of rehearsals, PLUS your normal studying and practice time, PLUS your S.O. has been distant lately and your best friend hasn’t been able to sit and listen to you vent because she’s just as busy and her “free” time doesn’t line up with yours. So you just completely break down about something that is, in retrospect, not a huge deal.
Guess what! This happens to everyone. Like, literally everyone. I’ve been present for the college-stress breakdowns of at least three friends, and have had one or two of my own. They suck like a black hole sucks in light. So don’t panic (any more than you already are), don’t quit your job, don’t drop out or change your major or break up or anything just yet. Do these things first:
- Delete whatever messages you feel like you NEED to send RIGHT NOW. I guarantee you that you will change your mind about quitting your job or saying those words to someone tomorrow once you’ve slept. If you think even for a moment that you’re a little emotionally compromised about the situation, then whatever messages you were about to send can wait.
- Cry it out. When it gets to the “I literally cannot handle anything going on in my life right now and this email about an assignment due date is causing me to tear up/consider moving to Alaska” stage, then you’ve officially hit Emotional Overload and it’s time to just let it out. Find a quiet spot or an understanding friend, and bawl or rant or whatever you need to do.
- Eat something healthy but tasty. An apple, some toast and jam, a couple slices of cheese - eat something to bring your energy back up that won’t make you feel worse about yourself.
- HYDRATE. Especially if you’re a messy crier! Go drink an entire glass of water - slowly though, don’t make your headache worse.
- Reevaluate your workload. Now comes the hard part. Once you’re feeling up to actually doing something about your life, figure out what HAS to be done, and by when. Then figure out which things can be safely ignored or forgotten. Don’t cut activities you enjoy and help you recharge, though. Those are just as necessary as downtime that you don’t have anything scheduled in for recharging your brain. Speaking of which…
- Schedule in time off, and keep it come hell or high water. Breakdowns occur when there’s too little you to do too much stuff. Having time when you don’t HAVE to do anything is necessary, otherwise you will eventually pop. Don’t pop, please. Take a couple hours two or three times a week, and guard them from the world. They’re yours. Do with them what you wish.
- Communicate. If you skipped classes or missed something you’d told someone you’d be there for, tell the people affected if you feel comfortable doing so. If not, apologize anyway. Email people for notes. Talk to your S.O. about why you’re sad. Talk to your best friend about scheduling time together. Talk to people, basically. Don’t just assume that you have to shoulder this burden on your own.
- Consider seeing a counselor. If there’s some underlying issue beyond just general workload stress - or even if there isn’t! - go see a campus counselor. They’re super useful, they’ll listen, and they can give better advice for dealing with life stressors than I ever could. Probably 60% of my friends have gone at one point or another. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed anything.
It’s going to be okay eventually. Take however much time you need to get back on your feet.