Setting aside some time alone in your schedule can give you the opportunity you need to recharge and stay balanced.
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Content warning: The following story contains personal details of mental health issues. Please proceed with caution if you are struggling. Resources on where to seek help can be found below the story. The author's name has been omitted to preserve their anonymity.
When I was preparing to go off to college, my dad told me that the best part of college is that "there's never a dull moment." To a large extent, this is true. On college campuses, there is always someone to talk to, something to do, somewhere to be. Unlike high school, you don't leave your friends when you leave class for the day — you live with these people too. And if you don't live with them, you live close. There is constant opportunity to socialize which, for many, is great. For me, though, it's a bit of a double-edged sword.
The constant socializing in college can be incredibly draining and, to some extent, detrimental to mental health.
Don't get me wrong. I like meeting new people and hanging out with good friends as much as anyone else. But I also like to be alone sometimes. Like many, I need to be along occasionally to feel like my full self when interacting with others. The constant socializing in college can be incredibly draining and, to some extent, detrimental to mental health.
Now the natural response is "Well, you don't have to socialize. All these events and opportunities are just that: opportunities." Can't deny that. The trouble is that all the possibilities create a certain pressure. There is a sense that, if you're not constantly out there, you're not making the most of your time, you're letting people down, you're behind in some way.
Swept up by this pressure, I spent the first two years of college always with other people. Even when I felt like I needed a break. I saw to it that I ate every meal, did every assignment and spent every evening with others. From the outside, it probably looked like I was super happy; the truth is, though, I was getting more and more tired and it was affecting my mental health. I wanted to take time for myself, but it never felt okay. If all these opportunities are what college is about, how can I turn any of them down?
I decided that on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I would eat dinner alone.
Living like this sapped me of all my energy. Seeing friends started to feel like work, and I started to lose myself. So this year, I decided to make a change. I decided that on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I would eat dinner alone. It was hard — I always felt like I was missing out of something — but I treated these three nights just like any other plans. Just, instead of plans with other people, they were plans with myself.
Despite all this initial discomfort, these night began to feel increasingly good. Being alone for a little while helped me to rest, destress and ultimately be more energetic and cheerful the next time I saw my friends. Going against the grain and giving myself some space began to help me really make the most of my college experience.
So if any part of this resonates with you, I encourage you to give being alone for just one meal a try. It will feel weird and uncomfortable, but sometimes we all need one or two dull moments to recharge and find the balance we need to be the best we can be.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, help is out there. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine is a free, nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals and support to people living with a mental health condition, their family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public. HelpLine staff and volunteers are experienced, well-trained and able to provide guidance. The NAMI HelpLine is not a hotline, crisis line or suicide prevention line.
The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST. Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email them at email@example.com