When I was five, I threw a complete fit trying to paint a water color of a fish in kindergarten. Yes, a fish. Looking around the room at all the other kids so called “fish,” they all seemed to end up looking like blue blobs. Taking note of this, I got anxious and desperately wanted my fish to actually look like a freaking fish. I refused to make any kind of stroke with the paint brush until I knew exactly what I was doing. So, I cried until my teacher aided me to the point where she did it for me (surprise– mine ended up looking the best). Obviously, being a naive five-year-old, I didn’t quite grasp that it didn’t need to be perfect or necessarily look like a fish. The whole point was to simply make and effort and try your best.
I remember that incident clearly because of the embarrassment and guilt I felt afterward. Why did I care so much and the others didn’t? Why did I cry? I later realized it was because I was stressed and didn’t know how to handle it. Little did I know, I would experience the same feelings over and over throughout my academic career.
I have always been a perfectionist when it comes to school. It has honestly been a JOURNEY to get to the point where I am now: knowing that it’s OK for things not to be perfect, go exactly according to plan and that making mistakes is normal. Maintaining perfection in college is impossible. Every student comes to realize that at some point. College is actually the perfect time to take risks, make tons and tons of mistakes and learn from them. Otherwise, what’s the point?
There comes a time in almost every college student’s life where they have some sort of a breakdown. By breakdown I don’t mean a shave-your-head-like-Britney breakdown, but one that makes you question everything that’s happening in your life (like my kindergarten moment but on a much larger scale), causing you to think Am I doing the right thing? Should I be doing more? Less? With all of these swirling thoughts cause stress; stress causes unexpected emotions to creep out.
Some people cry, laugh, scream, get angry, etc. I tend to be a crier. That sounds SO silly, but I simply can’t help it. Now, I don’t mean full-on hysterics, but my face gets red and I shed a few tears. The most important thing I’ve learned so far, when it comes to dealing with emotions, is to just let it happen. But, let it happen to an extent. Obviously, if you tend to get angry, maybe don’t drive your fist into a wall or throw a lamp across the room. But, give yourself a few minutes or more, set a timer if you need to, do whatever. Then, take deep breaths. I know this is ten times easier said than done, it actually might even sound obvious (like duh, Mac, obviously if I could just sit down and breathe I would), but once you actually get into the habit of paying attention to your breathing during times of anxiety or stress, it gets easier to keep in mind; like a switch that turns on when your heart rate increases.
Throughout high school I struggled with hyperventilating. It’s honestly incredibly embarrassing to admit, but it happened when I let myself overthink/ freak out about something longer than I should have (which happened frequently). I had the ability to completely drive myself into a panic with my thoughts. I’ve learned to remind myself that it’s not worth stressing/ getting emotional over things you can’t control. Again, remembering that seems easier said than done. In order to combat my tendency to lose control of my breathing, I started to think about what I could do, what I could control. This took some time to figure out, but eventually it worked to simply write down what I could do in a situation that caused me to be out of whack. Then, focus on that.
For me, looking back on the fish story serves as a simple reminder that nothing is ever as important as it seems. Everything will be fine; Take deep breaths; Control what you can and let go of the things you can’t.