Stress culture is arguably the biggest issue at Columbia. Although stress is common among students and often produces the most liked memes, it’s important to take a minute and evaluate your lifestyle to determine if it’s something more serious. Here are scenarios to consider and assess how you respond.
You see yourself losing close relationships, and you don't care
Scenario: You get into a fight with your friends and family.
Your typical response: This situation is understandable, especially when you have a lot on your plate and are feeling overwhelmed. When handling normal levels of stress, you find yourself upset that you’re creating rifts with the people around you and you want to fix them as soon as possible.
Something more serious: You see yourself purposefully tearing apart your close relationships and becoming distant, but you’re unfazed. You don’t make an effort to fix these relationships and you don’t see the need to have close relationships anymore.
What should you do? These fights are likely being caused by something external—school work, pressure to succeed in your extracurriculars, homesickness—not a disinterest in the relationship. A lot of the time, talking things through can be immensely helpful.
Take an hour or two to distance yourself from whatever work you have (trust us, it can wait) and sit down with a friend over a meal (maybe even go off campus), or FaceTime a family member back home. Restoring these relationships can’t be done if you never see the person, so it’s important that you devote some of your day to spending some time building your relationships.
In the event that you’re finding it hard to be around your friends and family, and you always talk it through with a professional at CPS or Furman. Columbia and Barnard have walk-in listening hours throughout the week, or you can also schedule one-on-one appointments.
You go out to lit-uations but can't seem to genuinely have fun
Scenario: You and your friends go to a packed EC party.
Your typical response: Even pre-gaming couldn’t compensate for the body heat and lack of space in the room. There’s no booze and the music is crappy, but you think, “Oh well, a bad party is still a party. Anything is better than Butler.” Then the logical follow-up: “Where’s a table I can dance on?”
Something more serious: First off, you depend on alcohol for a good time. You enter the scene excited but within the first 15 minutes, the novelty of partying wears off. You feel uncomfortable and disappointed, like you’re at a silent disco event but you never received the headphones. To make up for it, you get black-out wasted or you leave early. Either way, parties don’t do it for you anymore.
What should you do? Just because partying or past forms of having fun aren’t working now, doesn’t mean new activities won’t. If you aren’t having fun doing what most people seem to enjoy (whether that be going to an EC party or hitting up 1020 on the weekend), there’s no doctrine that says you must go along with them. Go to other events on or off campus, reach out to a new group of people you’d like to get to know better, talk with your professors or advisers during office hours, do a hobby you’ve been putting aside.
If you find that trying new activities still doesn’t bring you any enjoyment, there may be another underlying reason why. Barnard and Columbia can help you talk through what’s been on your mind recently in all types of meetings—drop in hours, group sessions, individual counseling, etc.
You make less of an effort to reach out and hang out
Your typical response: You text them back, “Yes please!!”
Something more serious: You text them back “Sure, why not,” and realize you’ve been eating alone all week. Unless people make an effort to hang out, you do a majority of things alone and you don’t really care to change that.
What should you do? This may seem weird to say, but it’s true—make sure you’re having a conversation everyday, even if it’s only with people on your floor as you brush your teeth. If you can make more solid plans with your friends to get lunch or something, great. If not, make strides where you can.
Visit your professors during their office hours, talk about your major with your adviser, send your parents a quick text wishing them good morning. Even if your interactions with people are only in five minute increments, that’s OK—it’s just important to make sure that you don’t feel alone for long periods of time.
Negative thoughts linger and you don't fight them
Scenario: You receive a lower score on the exam than you hoped for.
Healthy response: You get upset. You worked so hard, and it didn’t seem to show. Everything else that day seems to be going crappy. You tell your friends, and they can’t cheer you up. On your way back home, you go to Morton Williams and buy cookies because it’s been a long day and you deserve it.
Something more serious: You get upset. As you’re walking to your next class, the little voice inside your head tells you that you’re dumb and don’t belong here. You start agreeing with the negative thoughts as they pour in. You think back to all your other failures and start tearing up on Broadway.
What should you do? Write down all these negative thoughts. Jot them all down until you have no mean thing left to say about yourself. After this exercise, ask yourself if you feel better or worse after letting these thoughts out. If the former, you may have found a good coping mechanism that you can return to time and time again. If the latter, make sure you’re leaning on friends and family for support, as well as any counseling services Barnumbia offers.
You're just going through the motions
This final sign is the most important. No single scenario can clearly encapsulate this symptom. Instead, the way you approach your daily life overall can be an indicator that something is more serious.
Your typical response: Your plate is full and you’re overwhelmed. You have books to read, labs to write, and exams to study for. You don’t know how you’ll make it to spring break, but, then, you remember why you work hard in the first place. This is a difficult but fun time in your life. The friends and memories you make keep you going, and you can’t wait for what kind of exciting snapchat stories you’ll post next weekend.
Something more serious: Everything seems like a chore. Going to class, doing school work, eating meals, and even making small talk with your floormate feels tiring—yet, you still go through the motions. You don’t necessarily know why you work hard or hang out when none of it satisfies you anymore.
What should you do? If you’re experiencing these feelings, something is definitely up. Of course college will have its rough days, but it should also be fun.
We can suggest things for you to do on the weekend, give you ways to make more free time for yourself, but at the end of the day, getting out of this cycle will require you to talk everything over with a counselor. They’ll likely have you talk about when these feelings started, get to the root of why it happened, and help you find ways to start embracing a healthier lifestyle. Fortunately, both Columbia and Barnard have a lot of different psychological resources at your disposal.
Mental health challenges aren’t all or nothing—they can vary in degree and potency and aren’t always obvious. It’s not enough to be “fine” or to cope. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of any of the psychological resources Barnumbia provides if you think you or your friends are struggling with any of these symptoms.
You can contact CPS at (212) 854-2284, Furman at (212) 854-2092, the after-hours emergency line at (855) 622-1903, or Nightline at (212)-854-7777.
Do you have any other exercises or advice you would like to share? Tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat @CUSpectrum.
Juju Kim is a Spectrum trainee and a Barnard first-year. If you have a question, she only responds to meme-style inquiries. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.