This Post is Not About Self-Care
Brooke Griffith, Psy.D., HSP-P
There is so much learning that happens at college outside of the classroom. It’s difficult to tell incoming students what all those things are, yet, ask anyone on campus and it’s likely that at some point the “everything else” was harder than the classes. Most of you have spent the entirety of your life, up until you go to college, having a trusted adult consistently provide structure for you. When you go to bed at night, when you wake up in the morning, when homework is due, when decisions are made, an adult is there to guide you.
Suddenly, literally overnight, the adults have shifted their position in your life. You are left to manage all your own schedules and needs. You have to make appointments, remember where you have to be, decide what’s for dinner. You likely have to learn how to make friends differently than you have in the past. Before you probably had friends that you saw all day at school, were in activities with, and lived in the same neighborhood with since you were kids. Some of you may not have had to make all new friends since you started kindergarten. You are learning a multitude of new skills all while being away from those who have provided love, support, and guidance for you up to this point. It’s a big adjustment, and it can feel pretty lonely. And while the challenges change over your time in college, they are still there. Managing multiple responsibilities, adaptations in families as you become increasingly autonomous, finding a balance between activities that fill a grad school or job application and that fulfill a life. And that doesn’t include everything that you were already managing.
The academic work, while hard, you probably know. For many at Wake Forest, academics is a foe tackled long ago. The question is, how do you manage the rest? How do you take care of your emotional wellbeing?
I did a training recently, and a student said to me that they feel like self-care is another thing on the to-do list, and that not ticking that box comes with blame and judgment. There were nods of agreement from most in the room. I have sat with that statement intermittently since that day, and I hear it in the back of my mind as I write this. I could list here all the things that you should do to manage your emotional health, how you can fit it into your already full schedules. I’m not going to do that. Should is seldom a helpful word, and I wonder if many of you don’t already know those things but feel similarly to the student in my training. I have no interest in adding another thing on your list, another responsibility you have to manage in order to meet some expectation that someone has for you.
What I am going to do is tell you again, the stuff outside of academics feels hard because it is hard. It’s newer, it’s more ambiguous, and there is no one right answer. There is no making it easy, and you don’t have to pretend that it is. Tackling the challenge is part of the growth, and so is learning how to be authentic in your experience of it. Acknowledging that what you are feeling is real can be incredibly empowering. In fact, just by saying it out loud to another person often helps us feel better. It also helps us build deeper connections with others, which significantly contributes to our sense of wellbeing. Struggles will always arise, but they are easier to manage when we don’t feel alone in them. Build relationships. Have face to face conversations. See others and allow yourself the vulnerability to be really seen. Fostering connections and leaning into vulnerability are probably the two best things you can do to take care of your emotional wellbeing. The opportunities are already there, waiting for you to be ready for them.