Have you ever been in the middle of a busy semester and something brought you to a halt? And that thing gave you a minute to stop and look around at your life? Taking stock of how our day to day routine is going can be surprising. Some of the questions that may come to mind when this happens are:
Why am I so busy?
Why can’t I stop thinking about my grades?
Why are my parents always so unhappy with me?
Why doesn’t anyone understand how I feel?
College students often find themselves surrounded by people but feeling very alone. They may be focused on their assignments, but they haven’t lost sight of how the rest of their life has become unsatisfying. They wonder if they will ever find balance. Or why they can’t stop thinking about how they aren’t good enough.
Not only that, but the world has been so crazy they are struggling with figuring out where they stand. They notice that their beliefs aren’t lining up with their parents anymore. They may have found people on TikTok or Instagram that say the very things they are thinking, but in their real life they have no idea where and how to live out their beliefs.
And dating. What in the world is going on with their love life? Everyone else seems to be really happy with their free time. But they feel stuck somewhere between parties that are too wild for them and the long term relationships their roommates always seem to be in.
Are you doing everything you thought you were supposed to do?
But you are confused about why everything isn’t working out?
When I work with someone like you, we dig a little deeper into your daily habits. Sometimes we find that your go-to ways of coping are things that worked really well for you in high school. But now, in this new setting, those things aren’t helping you out anymore.
Does this sound familiar?
Elizabeth’s* parents started fighting a lot when she was in middle school.
She found the easiest thing to do was to focus on school. If she won the
speech contest and made the Honor Roll, her parents were temporarily
happy. She felt very satisfied that she could control that one area of her
life – school performance. She volunteered to help with the school play
and she studied for long hours before a test. These things got her out
of the house and in settings where she could either find quiet or feel useful.
She wasn’t having great luck with friends. She was left out a lot and they
would get mad at her over little things. When she got home from school
there was no one to talk to about this. She figured if she just kept going
she would eventually find some friends.
Fast forward to college. Elizabeth braved changing her major. Her parents
were mad but she is so much happier. She is friendly with her roommate.
That’s a relief. But she is constantly unhappy and she doesn’t know why.
One day her roommate pointed out to her that she had been studying a lot.
Of course, she thought. I’m a student and I need to study a lot. But her
roommate seemed concerned. Elizabeth was surprised. She hadn’t noticed
until now, but she did study for too many hours yesterday. She could have
gotten by with a 1 hour review for that quiz. But instead she thought and
worried about the quiz all day. She kept telling herself it needed 4 hours
of studying and not a moment less.
Fast forward again…it’s Junior Year. Elizabeth’s grades are high. Very high
by most people’s opinion. But she is not going to relax. Slowing down or
changing any of her study habits could be detrimental. Too many bad things
could happen if she made a bad grade. She had heard that the job market
is tough. She had also heard that her transcript was not going to be that
important once she started her career, but she blew that off. Of course her
grades are important. Aren’t they the most important thing?
I’ll let you in on a secret about Elizabeth. She hasn’t noticed yet, but she is replaying a coping skill she learned when she was younger. She is overfocusing on something that gives her the feeling of control. This helps her ignore the things that scare her. Such as: I can’t control my parents but I can control how I operate at school. Now that she is in college, she is realizing there are more things she can’t control. Her future. It scares her. She has so many fears. There are so many “What ifs?” Her love life scares her too. What if she is lonely forever?
Listen. There is hope. Talk with a therapist, like me. Together we can pinpoint what habits aren’t serving you well anymore. Spoiler: the answer is NOT in more hard work. This may be surprising. When hard workers hit a trouble spot they often don’t slow down. They think they just need to try another version of hard work.
If you identify as a hard worker, you may be having trouble slowing down or shifting gears. It can help to get guidance from a professional. Together, we can figure out why you do so much but stay so frustrated. We can work to help you accept yourself and your flaws. Contact me today and we will get to work.
*not a real client
Jody Dianna, LCSW is a therapist that provides virtual sessions throughout the state of Tennessee. She is a specialist in assisting college students with anxiety and panic attacks.