Dealing With The Weight Of College While Your Friends Have Fun

This op-ed piece by ORANGE writer Danielle Haberly discusses college students' struggle to cope with the stress of higher education.

By Danielle Haberly

I make lists. To organize the clutter of my mind, I compartmentalize the things I have to do, the places I have to be. I use redundancy in my lists to make sure I don't miss anything. My to-do list subcategorizes into three parts: by class, by day and by assignment longevity. I used to not be such a control freak.

In high school, I was the happy-go-lucky, rock-concert-going, stoner type. I wrote down assignments on my hand in class. The weight of my academic responsibility washed down the drain every night without a second thought. College changed me. If I don't keep an updated student planner, my mind will overflow with numbing responsibility.

All of us are here with the notion that school is important. If it wasn't, we would be working at The Mellow Mushroom and playing bass for a ska-punk band. We are all here because we want more. I'm here to get a high-quality education that can help me achieve all of my life goals. I have a vision of how my college career will continue, but sometimes I get the itching urge to quit. I call this my "screw it" gene. I have a bunch of friends that aren't in school, working minimum wage jobs and seem to be just as happy as I am, if not more so. It makes me wonder — if I had stayed in my hometown and continued to work at the local gym, would I be satisfied? The answer is no. I want more for myself.

Everyone walking past me on campus has the same drive as I do. That drive is why we deal with ridiculous tuition bills, ugly deadlines, late night study sessions and horrendous parking. Every day, I fight the urge to just say "screw it " and quit everything. But how can I do that? How would I live with myself if I threw away everything I've worked for? I couldn't. I know others feel the same way. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 46% of students who start college won't finish. Obviously everyone has the "gene," but it runs deeper in some of us than others. Even in the most minuscule way, I struggle with this on a regular basis. Even the decision to go to my last class of the day (which, mind you, doesn't have a role sheet) is an internal battle.

How do we handle this phenomenon? I take one day at a time — one assignment at a time. I make lists to help cope with the stress. The anxiety of worrying about future deadlines rots my brain. Making lists unloads my burdens onto paper.

Also, I make myself comfortable. I've noticed my urge to cut class is lessened when all of my basic needs are met. I carry a large water bottle and a granola bar in my bag at school everyday. You may not think this could make a difference, but I've noticed that I get dehydrated with a hunger headache in class if I don't. I also start my day with a banana and a cup of coffee. Most of us barely wake up on time for class, let alone have time to cook eggs and bacon, but it takes a second to grab some fruit as you walk out of the door. Stock your fridge; fruit is cheaper than you think!

Experts have always said that the most beneficial days begin after eight hours of sleep. This is not typical for our overloaded schedules, but sleeping through class won't get us anywhere. Turn off any outside noise before you fall asleep. I mean, don't pass out with the TV on. I tend to do that, but I know my typical five hours is no good if the sleeping neurons in my brain are interrupted by a Toaster Strudel commercial. These are pretty basic needs that can be easily met and will help subdue the ever-gnawing tendency to bail when class turns into a monotonous daydream.

In addition to that urge to quit, I struggle with anxiety. Like I said, I cope with school stress by making lists, but when does anxiety become a problem? I think it's pretty normal in our collegiate setting to struggle with worries daily. Here at UT Austin, we have one of the highest stress levels among students. Because of the high status of our University, so much is expected of us. UT students aren't all  geniuses, but we are smart and determined. Many students that were accepted into the University had to work extremely hard to get here. Stress hangs in the air on campus like an invisible smog. Administration is well aware of these facts. The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) provides students with endless resources to help them with these issues. There is no shame in visiting the CMHC on the fifth floor of the Student Services Building for a little help. If you find yourself overwhelmed and feeling alone, don't hesitate to stop on by. Don't let yourself hide in a shell of anxiety. There are people and programs here to help you.     

Don't quit. Don't even let off that gas pedal for a second. I mean it. People might be able to justify this kind of slacker behavior to themselves, but when grades come back, you'll be feeling pretty foolish. Don't flush your tuition down the toilet. When you skip that class to go have a Fuzzy's taco, or avoid studying for that astronomy test because you think you'll fail regardless, you are torching cash and future opportunities. Convince yourself to do better, to be better. You don't want to look back ten years from now, when you're still working at Kinkos, and think "I should have tried harder."

I plan to look back and thank my 21-year-old self for working my ass off and skipping that huge frat party right before finals. Throw your whole self into everything you do, and you might end up landing somewhere amazing.