Ask Elijah: advice about college life and personal struggles

Although we hope this advice column is helpful, Elijah is not a trained professional! If you are having feelings of anxiety or depression, consider talking to an expert.

What can I do to manage my stress better?

If you can fit it into your schedule, dedicate time for yourself. Read a book. Listen to music. Meditate. For how long will depend on the urgency of the work that lies ahead for the day, but a safe estimate would be anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes. 

One of the biggest mistakes I made during my first year of college, despite it being virtual, was pushing through my schoolwork and giving myself little to no time to unwind. More often than not, I tried to destress the same time I was doing my work, which sounds contradictory because it was. 

A mindset I’ve recently adopted is to try the absolute best I can but simply accept whatever happens. If the best I can give is 80, 50, or even 10 percent of the effort I’m meant to give, that’s okay for me because I’m putting in what I can. I know I have my limitations and it would be unrealistic to expect that I can ace each thing I do every time.

Of course, that isn’t to suggest this is an excuse to give little to no effort in your classwork or other daily responsibilities. You should always try to perform to the best of your abilities. However, if circumstances dictate otherwise, talk to your professors and communicate with them. Let them know what’s going on so they can help you in any way they can.

How do I deal with homesickness?

Developing a sense of community can be a great place to start. What this looks like, however, will depend on the person and how willing they are to reach out to others. Personally, joining a club was my initial go-to decision when it came to making friends and getting to know people. The way I saw it is that I could achieve a similar sense of kinship by seeking places or activities that felt familiar to me because it reminded me of home.

But not everyone can make the time to join clubs and get involved in activities, understandably so. And for some, home may be in a completely different state. If that’s the case, keep in touch with your family and loved ones. Give them a call, text them, or use social media to stay in contact. Whether they’re a couple minutes or a few hundred miles away, letting them know they’re still in your thoughts can help with those feelings.

How do I find the motivation and time to keep up with classes?

I find it helpful to put yourself in an ideal working environment that puts you in the proper mindset to work. This can look different for a lot of people. Some prefer quiet spaces with minimal distractions, some like to have others around to motivate them to work. Personally, I like to work in spaces with some noise but not too much where it’s distracting. As long as your environment caters to your work style, it can make a significant difference in pushing you to get work done. 

As for time management, I would recommend setting up a to-do list but with set times during your schedule to keep yourself in check. Speaking from personal experience, there have been times when I found myself working on a single assignment for hours on-end despite planning to work on other things the same day. Many college students will say that time management is arguably the most important skill to master, and while I don’t disagree with that statement, it can be difficult to stay consistent especially when life gets in the way. To that end, I’d say to just focus on what classes demand the highest priority and to not get too caught up in getting perfect results.

How do I manage my money and spending better, especially if I’m not working at the moment?

I recommend setting up some sort of budgeting plan that narrows down your expenses like groceries, gas, entertainment, etc. Doing this can give you a clearer picture of where your money goes, and then you can create limits for each category so you don’t overspend.

Also, consider how your spending habits can be altered. For instance, if you buy coffee every morning before heading to class, consider investing in a coffee maker so you don’t have to buy out all the time. Consistent spending, no matter how inexpensive it may seem initially, will accumulate over time and slowly eat away at your budget. You can also think about substitutes like eating at home instead of going out or buying generic brand products over name-brand.

What would you say to someone who is battling their self-worth? Any words of wisdom?

I think it’s important to remember that we are only human. We are our worst critics and sometimes we place too high of expectations on ourselves. Whether it’s a job we have, the grades we earn, our social status among peers, or the decisions we make, it’s easy to get caught up in those aspects thinking that they shape our worth. But in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I will say that the process in realizing my own worth began from one central idea: loving myself. Self-love is not an end goal but an ongoing journey in believing that I am enough in spite of all of the mistakes I’ve made, the things that’ve happened to me, and the flaws that make up who I am. It’s a journey that I’m still on today. Even if I may not like or think highly of certain aspects about myself, I accept them for what they are not because I can’t do anything about them, but in acknowledgement that I am not perfect and I welcome those imperfections as part of who I am.

I also think that reframing self-talk is helpful in nurturing a more positive mindset. Instead of saying something like “I could’ve done better,” you could say “I did my best, and that’s good enough for me.” The high standards we place on ourselves can often work against us if we approach them as if they are all-or-nothing. By giving ourselves that leniency to have a middle ground, we can feel relatively content in knowing that our given effort is still something meaningful.

Finding value in your own self-worth is a process that takes time. It’s okay if you’re not happy everyday. It’s okay to fail even if you gave it your all. But as a reminder when things aren’t looking bright: please be kind to yourself. You’re trying your best, and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.

What can I do about feelings of loneliness and isolation?

The thing that continues to help me with these feelings is talking with someone that I deeply trust. For some people, that person could be their best friend. For others, it could be a family member or their counselor/therapist. It can be hard to open up at first but making this first effort will allow them to acknowledge how you feel so they can give you support.

However, sometimes it can feel as if there’s an insurmountable wall between yourself and other people, even if you are constantly surrounded by friends and loved ones. It can be hard to get over this wall and make that effort to reach out, but realizing it is not permanent is a good first step in alleviating those kinds of feelings.

Having said that, loneliness is not a problem with a one-and-done solution. It takes time to cope with such feelings and it may not completely go away, but it’s worth remembering there are people who care and want to help out in any way they can. 

What is some advice for someone who questions themselves about their inner voice?

I think it would depend on the kinds of thoughts one’s inner voice is telling them and how much they are being affected. If these thoughts impact how one goes about their daily life, it’s worth having a conversation with someone about it and sharing how it makes them feel.

However, if such thoughts are part of a deeper problem, I would advise consulting with a professional about it. I’m in no position to give medical advice but I think that it would be worth considering if it gets to that point. By getting another perspective on things, I think it will be easier to figure out what’s the best course of action.

Our inner voice can often tell us things that we may not always think is true, and it can be hard to know what to believe at times. That’s why I think it’s important to consider the people one can talk to and reach out to when that voice proves to be too much to handle at times.  

What would you say to someone who is missing a loved one during the holidays?

I would say that keeping your loved one in your thoughts in a way that honors them can be helpful. Some people say a prayer or perform special traditions in remembrance of that person. Others like to tell each other stories about them and look back on memories.

Personally, I think writing a letter to them would be a good way of reflecting and dedicating your thoughts to them. You don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to, and you could store that letter in a safe place. However, what you do with the letter matters less than what you’ve written. Your words can act as a personal eulogy to them, and serve as a reminder that they live on in your memories and in those closest to you.

While the holidays are known as a time for celebration and spreading joy, using it as an opportunity to look back and remember the people you love is just as important too. Whether you’re honoring the memory of a loved one, spending time with close friends and family, or celebrating across distances over video call, take the time to love the ones closest to you just a little bit more. It’ll mean a lot to them.

Any specific playlists you recommend for students who are stressed and need music to calm down?

A lot of the playlists I listen to are either YouTube or Spotify, though one playlist I find myself coming back to is “lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to,” which is a 24/7 livestream of instrumental beats from the channel Lofi Girl. Some other favorite channels I go to for relaxing music are Ikigai, Dreamhop Music, Ambition, and the bootleg boy. I also like to loop certain songs or put on atmospheric playlists to calm my nerves.

I tend to listen to instrumental music more often than songs with lyrics because it allows me to bask in an ambient environment where I don’t think about what’s stressing me out. If I can make the time, I’ll put together playlists of my own as well. One podcast I recently found on Spotify, called Dreamscapes, has 3-hour-long episodes of oldies music with ambient sounds in the background to create a moody atmosphere. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good playlist/podcast to transition back into the focused mindset to get work done.


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