Silvana Lakeman considers how we can deal with the possibilities of UCD

The winter term is now officially underway – leaves are falling from the trees, coats are a necessity and midterms are looming for most. The majority of us will want to succeed this term, but most of us will also be faced with deadlines, time constraints, social, work and club commitments, and I am yet to come across a friend who hasn’t let the pressure get to them at least once. Stress is completely natural and is in fact good in small doses, but left unchecked, the tiniest problem can seem overwhelming and unmanageable, and often affects your mood and general health.

If I have learned anything from my time in UCD so far it is that it is humanly impossible to do everything and to do it to the best of your ability in one foul swoop. Students in general see college as their time to get involved in every facet of college life, particularly in first year. Just looking around UCD, it is obvious the amount of effort, work and time that students put into our societies, sports teams and Students’ Union. We seem to take the phrase ‘get involved’ very seriously here, with many students involved in numerous groups around campus. Adding on extra commitments that aren’t as important as others or take up far too much of our time is not always what is best for us, even if we think it will improve our chances in the future with job prospects or otherwise. It can be far more satisfying to get involved in a select few activities and be able to give them one hundred percent, than to join five which we can only give a half hearted effort.

For example it would not be uncommon to find a student who is first violin in the UCD Symphony Orchestra, yet also a formidable player on the hockey team while volunteering for the Saint Vincent de Paul society on the weekends, or one who balances early morning rowing sessions with debating and class rep duties. We get involved in so many things because we want to, yet because we study in a place where we could do almost anything we want, it is even more important to decide what it is we really want and truly value. Students over commit themselves by joining several sports teams and dozens of societies, balance part time jobs, go out with friends, start new friendships and relationships and move out of home. Between these and actually going to college as well as pressure from family and your own expectations to succeed in your chosen degree, the stress of it all can become unmanageable, however it doesn’t need to be.

Many of us work hard to keep our place in college and work part time and at weekends to pay fees, accommodation and general expenses throughout the year.  Money is tight for a lot of us, and for most, college is a time for financial independence. It can be stressful managing a budget and a job, but don’t let working hard to pay for college and other commitments get in the way of your education. It entirely defeats the purpose if you don’t have time to sleep or study for exams, so if you find yourself in this position, be open to other solutions. Look into grants, loans from relatives, and think about reducing your work hours during term time – you can always make up for it during holidays.

The most important thing regarding both college work and money issues is to know your priorities. Learn to say no – and yes. If you are invited out every night, but know you don’t have the money for it just yet, it is perfectly acceptable to say no every now and then, as it is to say no if you really need to get that assignment finished. Your friends will understand, and if they don’t, get some new ones. Likewise, if you turn down every party/dinner/club invite because you think you should be studying instead, learn that it is important to take breaks every now and then. Burnout is inevitable and avoidable if you don’t, so take a well selected break from time to time. You will feel better for it and you will bounce back to work more productively than before.

There can be some unexpected stresses in college that aren’t always taken into account. For first years or anyone for that matter, the question of whether you are in the right course, or even if university is for you, can pop into your head. It is perfectly normal to question one of the biggest steps you’ve had to take in your life thus far, but also know that it is normal to worry about these sorts of things. Ask yourself – if I weren’t where I am now, where would I otherwise be, and would I be happier? If the answer is obvious and you are really not happy here, talk to someone about it and get it sorted as quickly as possible, but chances are you are like the majority of us and just nervous about the future. The key thing to remember here is that you can’t control everything – if you put in the work and stay positive, things will work out, but if you’re very worried, talk to the career office on campus.

It can sometimes be that we can’t quite pinpoint a problem. If you are exhausted, mentally drained, are repressing a problem by ignoring something such as a looming essay, the best thing to do is to address it as quickly as possible.  Sometimes stress can manifest itself as something else, such as a lingering cold or constant headache. Notice where your stress is coming from – is it from someone else or yourself? If it is coming from friends or family, talk to them and explain how you feel pressured because of their expectations, that you appreciate their concern for you but that you need to do things your own way. If the pressure is coming from yourself, such as procrastinating over studying, ask yourself what you can do about it and accept help if you need it.

The most important thing for stressed college students is to never be too hard on yourself. What would you say to a friend in your situation? Chances are you would tell them to look after themselves, relax from time to time and keep their head up.  It is a fact of life that sometimes luck is just not on our side, and no matter how hard we try to avoid this, sometimes things just seem to go wrong and problems pile up. It is also easy and normal to get overwhelmed every now and then. If college, work or life in general gets too much, the best thing, no matter who you are, is to talk or share the load with someone else. This person may not be able to make your problem go away, but having someone else there can make it seem smaller or more manageable.