Breathe, Repeat.

Being a college student is all about new experiences: new people, new classes, new living situations – the list can often seem daunting and never-ending.  In the process of creating this exciting new life, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the whirlwind of it all, and even easier to lose track of the person who matters most when it comes to the state of our happiness – ourselves.

Friends, significant others, co-workers, parents, or any combination of the above are always competing for our attention.  Everyone wants a piece of us – who wouldn’t, right? We’re twenty-something and fabulous! – but there’s not always enough of us to go around, so the only solution can often seem to be spreading ourselves thin enough to reach a little bit of everyone.  However, bending over backwards, sideways and every other which way trying to please everybody else is exhausting, and it more often than not leaves us in a contorted mess while the rest of the world continues to breeze by us with their morning coffee.

If one day you wake up and suddenly realize that you have in fact become guilty of this crime, never fear!  It happens to the best of us from time to time.  According to a study entitled “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” out of 200,000 freshman students who were currently enrolled full-time at a four-year college, only 52 percent of them classified their mental health state as “above average” – a number that has fallen considerably from 64 percent in 1985.  Many factors contributed to this decline, including the economy, rising tuition prices, job prospects, and constant self-comparison to peers.

Luckily, there are lots of easy ways to combat these pesky stresses of everyday life.  Professionals at the Mayo Clinic encourage the practice of relaxation techniques to help rid your life of stress so you are always feeling at the top of your game.  Whether it’s yoga, visualization methods, or T’ai Chi, find something that works for you and keep at it!  These techniques are just like any other skill-set; they will take work and repetition, but eventually will pay off.

Whenever I am feeling bogged down by relationship drama, school, or life in general, I try to consciously remind myself to breathe – just breathe – for maybe 10 or 15 seconds at a time.  And then I do it again.  It may seem simple or trivial, but it works.  Get outside, take a walk through SoHo for some window shopping, sit in Washington Square Park and watch all of the tourists fawning over the pigeons, get coffee on the Upper West Side and walk around pretending like you’re part of the Gossip Girl crew – the specifics don’t matter as long as you are continuously reminding yourself to breathe.

As you’re walking and breathing, think about all of the things in your life that make you happy.  Then think about the things in your life that don’t make you happy.  Now make a promise to yourself that you will do more of those things that make you happy, and vow to do less of the things that don’t.  This is the time to take that kickboxing class you’ve wanted to take but just somehow haven’t found the time.  Or maybe make plans to put on some lipstick and that favorite dress that you never get to wear and go out with your friends for a night of feeling pretty and good about yourself.

After all, we live in New York City! Get out there and make use of the urban playground that is waiting right outside your door.  Just don’t forget to take a few seconds every day to remember who you are and what makes you happy, and, whatever you do during this time, don’t forget to breathe.


Lesley Hennen, New York University. Check out my Twitter!

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