Popular culture portrays college as a luminal period in which young people are given free rein to digress into the most debouched form of hedonism possible. While the college experience can certainly be enjoyable, we know the truth behind the silver screen fantasy: college is tough. In more eloquent terms, college can downright suck at times. Many students work in addition to their demanding course schedules. The entire enterprise of earning an education costs tens of thousands of dollars, much of it paid for by acquiring debt. You may pour your blood, sweat, and tears (literally) into a course only to have a [choose your own adjective] professor give you a terrible grade. On top of all of this I have seen far too many of my peers, and even myself at times, have their own troubles exacerbated by the unnecessary stress of negative social interaction or to use the modern colloquialism, “drama.” Couple this with a serious campus culture that lacks variety or frequency of social events, and it is not surprising that most students I have talked to and interacted with are ready to pull their hair out…if they have not already.
I sympathize. For months I contemplated writing any number of opinion pieces skewering any of a half dozen things that I find lacking or annoying with the University. That is not to say I do not still harbor those resentments. Rather, I realized that it will be far more productive to write about the importance of overcoming stress and staying positive to get through the hard times then create more negativity by griping about issues of minor importance.
The first step to being positive is avoiding self doubt. I have met innumerable Pacific students who are brilliant yet think they are stupid, tenacious yet view themselves as lazy, beautiful yet find themselves ugly, and overall picture themselves in a very self deprecating light. While our society does value humility, and one should avoid arrogance, self defamation is never a good idea. Embrace your strengths and realize that seeing yourself in a positive way will only enhance your ability to contribute to your own happiness and the happiness of others.
It is also incredibly important to avoid people who do not have your best interests in mind. This does not mean become completely intolerable with your friends. Instead, I am suggesting developing a better awareness of how the people you surround yourself with contribute to your life. I have certainly been friends with individuals who did not have my best interests in mind and it is truly shocking how being around those who truly care about you in a genuine manner can reinforce your self-esteem and confidence. I find it incredibly disheartening when I talk to someone who is going through any number of social problems with their friends or partner(s). Much of what happens to us in life is out of our control but our social life is one of the few stress causers we can easily reduce. If someone is continually trying to hurt you or does not value you then find someone else. I assure you the people who will care are out there.
It is crucial that we take moments to assess our lives. So much of what causes our anxieties is our minds predicting stress. How many times have you dreaded a series of tests only to find that they were not really that challenging or stressful? A few days ago I was thinking about a friendship that had gone sour, all the reading I had to do and my senior project. All of this, as you can no doubt guess, was making me feel a bit stressed. I took a moment and stopped to think, “how is any of this negatively affecting my life right now.” In that moment I realized that I was okay. Only my thoughts, not my reality, were truly troubling me. Self-reflection is crucial to combating stress. In the chaos of modern life, introspection creates a moment of pleasant reassurance that can make a world of difference.
The final important thing to consider when staying positive is how absolutely critical it is to realize, and I must put this in all caps to emphasize, that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Our culture emphasizes stoic individuality, which is a recipe for self-destruction. Nothing alleviates anxiety more than finding a pair of understanding and sympathetic ears. School is tough, life is tougher, but in no ways does that mean you have to go it alone. You have to the power to create an environment in which you thrive and succeed amidst whatever life throws at you because you have the wherewithal to be positive.