When I first started college, I was buzzing with excitement. For years, I had looked forward to living away from home for the first time, decorating my dorm, and making new friends. But eventually, the novelty started to wear off, and I was faced with the realities of being a full-time student: the late nights, the packed schedules, the demanding classes. This left me with a familiar but sobering feeling: anxiety.
I took on a lot throughout my college career. I filled up my schedule with the maximum number of credits I could take and signed myself up for internships each semester. Any free time I had was spent working not one but two part-time jobs near campus. My weeks were an exhausting cycle of sleep, eat, study, work. I remember putting so much pressure on myself to get everything done. I sacrificed my sleep and sanity to go above and beyond, but with time it became clear that my over-the-top dedication to staying busy was doing more harm than good.
Eventually I realized something that changed everything for me. If I was having a particularly difficult week – and felt like I was struggling mentally, physically, or both – I had the option to simply cut back on some of my responsibilities, albeit temporarily. I didn’t have to make myself available for work 24/7 or do every extra credit assignment. And if I wanted to skip a class to take a breather, there was no one forcing me to go.
I had spent my entire life showing up for everything, usually extra early and “on,” so this shift in perspective was enlightening. It felt like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders and I was finally able to breathe. If I needed to miss class to take care of myself, I did. On those days, I’d either go to therapy to sort out how I was feeling or hop a train home to visit family or spend a few hours catching up on schoolwork I hadn’t been able finish because of my other obligations.
It felt like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders and I was finally able to breathe. If I needed to miss class to take care of myself, I did.
Of course teachers sometimes asked where I had been, and at least once I was given a hard time about it, but for the most part, they understood. I let my professors know that I was juggling a lot from the moment I stepped into their classroom: how I worked multiple jobs while interning and going to school full-time, how I had a history of anxiety and depression, and how some days were harder than others. Being this open helped me feel less badly about sometimes ditching school as self-care.
I look back and wish I never put that kind of pressure on myself, and I know now that a few skipped classes didn’t matter much in the long run – I still got my work done and graduated with flying colors. I still strive to get everything done and done well, but years after I first stepped on campus, I know my health and wellbeing are just as important. I wish the same for you.