I love planning. No, really – nothing makes me feel more accomplished, more safe, than the feeling of having my schedule completely filled out, so that I know what to do every hour of every day. Does that make me a bit of a control freak? Yes, it probably does.
Now if all of that is true, you might be confused as to why you’re reading an article on taking a break from your planned routine. Well, just stick with me here.
The weeks leading up to college move-in were grueling for me. Though I suppose it’s not uncommon for upcoming freshmen to be worried about this new chapter of their lives (some will show it more than others), I was utterly terrified. I was moving halfway across the country (22 hours by car to be exact) to a school that none of my friends had even heard of, and to make matters even worse, move-in day was going to be the very first time I set foot on campus. Although I had been away from home for significant periods of time before, nothing was never quite as permanent as this move.
After unpacking and setting up my room, it was almost as if someone had pressed a “GO” button on my life. Throughout orientation, I was only in my room when I needed sleep, and it’s safe to say that this pattern continued well into the beginning of that semester. Now before you jump to conclusions here – no, I was not out partying every night, and no, I was not trying to drink away my worries. Instead, I began to fall in a strict routine of school, work, and friends that I helped myself to and upheld to a T. I had found my own way to forget, my own way to not allow myself to stop for long enough to think about just how far out of my comfort zone I really was.
My routine engulfed me. I was so focused on always doing something that I didn’t even notice. For a solid three months, I was constantly doing, doing, and going. I did everything to establish RIT as my home and my environment, and I didn’t think twice about it. Unknowingly, keeping myself busy became my method of not allowing myself the time to feel homesick, to cope with how big of a life-change college was. I was always looking forward to my next assignment, club meeting, or dinner with new friends.
The problem was that none of these things alone were inherently bad in nature. I was doing very well in school, I had a solid group of new friends, and I was involved in clubs. As far as I knew, this was the perfect execution of the perfect recipe of the perfect college experience. Sense the sarcasm yet?
I was so in love with the routine I created for myself that it became even more important than the individual tasks and events within it.
Then Thanksgiving week rolled around.
Everything around me was slowing down as professors and students looked forward to the promise of three blissful days off work with their friends and family. My world was not getting any slower though. I pushed on with my tight schedule and added even more tasks for myself. Soon enough, my brain was making plans faster than my body could even begin to complete them.
So, I crashed. Now, I know what you’re thinking, this must be the great climax that I have been building up to, and using the word “crash,” you will think I’m referring to some unfortunate car accident on my way home. Well, that’s just the thing, I didn’t get to go home and take that break, and that realization was precisely what brought me into a flood of tears.
Our bodies have a unique ability to tell us to stop and slow down. This was my body telling me precisely that. I spent the whole semester making myself so busy that I wouldn’t have time to internalize the huge life-change that college really is. I tried my very best to follow everything I had read about what makes a successful college student. Yet somehow, that wasn’t enough.
No self-help article could actually prepare me for the unique challenges that college had for me. As I sat down to write this, I realized that I, too, could never successfully address all the struggles a college student could face, but that’s just it. College will hit each individual person with a personalized set of challenges that can all be equally overwhelming and all feel equally isolating. So my advice here is simple.
Take a break.
For me, that meant changing my environment by taking a trip to Highland Park and for just a day, being away from RIT. It meant allowing myself the headspace to process my new reality of life in college. Whatever taking a break means to you, do it. Get coffee at the cafe you have been meaning to visit or maybe just take a walk around campus to process and take in everything that is happening around you.
Facing your reality will work much better than trying to run from it.