Navigating Setbacks

I think we can all agree that these past few years have been interesting to navigate. Many of us, myself included, are still figuring out what our new normal ought to consist of.

Hi! My name is Angelin (she/her). I’m a fourth-year undergraduate student and part of the HealthyU Crew, studying Human Biology and Bioethics here at U of T.

I think we can all agree that these past few years have been interesting to navigate. Many of us, myself included, are still figuring out what our new normal ought to consist of. The pandemic hit during my first year which was disorienting for a few reasons. There was the glaringly obvious reason, i.e. the world shutting down, and then the specific-to-my-life-as-a-student reason — what was going to happen to my classes? The move to online school affected every student in a different way. For me, I had an initial sense of relief. After all, I commuted 1.5 h to school every day. I figured that now, I had been given the gift of time. I had no way of forseeing the difficulties that I would experience separating my school and home life, finding motivation to study, and dealing with long periods of isolation. Being detached from the university community also made me develop this heightened imposter syndrome which made me feel like I was perpetually behind. Even now, as a fourth-year student, I have moments where it feels like I am a few steps behind where I ought to be.

So, it’s safe to say that I experienced some setbacks. Looking back, these issues I faced were a consequence of unhealthy patterns of thought I held. After coming to university, I found myself getting more and more accustomed to quantifying my days according to what I could accomplish. The unhealthiness of this mindset wasn’t clear to me until the advent of online school. Suddenly, I had the entire day to myself and I found myself glued to my desk for long stretches of time, every day edging closer to burnout. Being confined to my house made it easier to prolong tasks under the guise of “I have the whole day” and, thus, motivation became elusive. There was also the issue of feeling stuck in my environment. Being in a shared home can often mean that you’re constantly accommodating others. Your schedule and your space is not your own. For me, this caused a considerable amount of frustration coupled with a feeling of loneliness since I am a first generation university student and a lot of my struggles were novel to those in my household.

Workspace with a laptop, candle, notebook and pencils

            Now, how did I get through that? The short answer is that I got better at recognizing my needs and priorities. I realized that I wasn’t handling things well on my own and decided to seek out support where I could. I made appointments with academic advising at my registrar, booked meetings with a counselor, and started practicing more honesty regarding my struggles. Talking to people when things go wrong is almost always better than keeping it to yourself. Ask your professors for support, talk to friends about what you’re finding difficult, join study groups, and try to involve yourself in the university community. It is hard to be proactive but, ultimately, it is worth the effort. Struggling doesn’t mean that you are inherently inept; it just means that you need some help. When I felt anxious or stressed in the past, I would convince myself that the remedy to my situation was to just push myself more and try a little harder. In some cases, this might be true but, in others, more effort will reap diminishing returns, leaving you too exhausted to move forward in your academic/personal goals.

A blue sky with rocks, TEXT: Rest is vital and taking time for yourself everyday is necessary.

Rest is vital and taking some time for yourself every day is deeply necessary. Resilience is about figuring out an ebb and flow between responsibilities and simple pleasures. Stress and anxiety can leave you feeling as though you are cemented in place but it is possible to get unstuck by developing the confidence to consistently put forth an effort and being patient with yourself when you have missteps. Navigating student life is difficult and we are all going to have varied experiences. Building your skills of resilience sets you up for being someone who is a step closer to work-life balance and a well-rounded self.

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