Through The Looking Glass: Maintaining Sanity

by Abigail Hartley | 11/6/14 8:44pm

Self-care at Dartmouth is hard, especially as someone who transferred here from an institution that let me count classes like “Math 120: Appreciation of Math” toward a degree my freshman year. I used to have time for two naps, a four-mile run and a Zumba class every day on top of my schoolwork, and I assumed that was just what college was like. It was with this mindset that I arrived in Hanover last fall.

By the end of my first term at Dartmouth, I had gone from a fit, well-adjusted person to an anxiety-ridden hobbit. I was in a panic to make new friends and have “The College Experience.” The vastly increased volume of homework I was assigned meant that I had to pare down on either my social life or my sleep if I wanted to maintain the exemplary grade point average to which I had become accustomed.

My way of working around the problem was to switch from beer to drinks made with caffeinated soda when I went out, and to do my playwriting I homework when I was drunk and “more creative anyway.” This Hemingway method, I was confident, would allow me to produce my most visionary works yet. In reality, I wrote a one-act about a televised chocolate-making competition in Las Vegas with antagonists who, inexplicably, were ex-KGB agents running an artisanal chocolate shop in the Bellagio, and who had such sinister stage directions as, “LISETTE goes over and smiles seductively, then produces a yo-yo and performs a series of totally rad tricks that ends with her breaking JARED’s nose.” If I was Hemingway, then I’d skipped Paris and gone straight to Cuba.

I staggered through the term miserable, frazzled and sick from the cesspit my personal care habits had become — one finals week breakfast consisted of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and mint M&Ms, eaten on the way to my German exam — and then spent my winter break at home recovering. Even with a fresh start in the new year, it took me until halfway through winter term to figure out how to keep myself stable in a high-pressure academic environment. First, I realized my priority had to be getting my academics under control. When I struggle to keep my grades up, I cut back on self-care in favor of studying, and the more I cut back on self-care, the worse my grades became. If I make myself sit down and do the damn homework every single day, the cycle doesn’t have a chance to start. Next, I did some research and came up with a list of ways to keep myself healthy.

After I finally balanced things out and became myself again, my constant thought was, “Oh my God, if I couldn’t keep it together as a sophomore, how do the freshmen deal with this straight out of high school?” I can’t imagine adjusting to Dartmouth with no previous college experience, which is why I’m writing this. These five tips helped transform me from an anxiety-ridden hobbit to where I am today.

1) Drink more water than you think is reasonable. I was exhausted all the time until my therapist told me to try drinking two 48-ounce bottles of water every day, and let me tell you, it was like angels descended from the heavens and transported me to a higher plane of existence. Speaking of which...

2) See a therapist. I’ve heard the counselors at Dick’s House are a mixed bag. I got lucky and found one I really got along with, but there are also multiple places in town where you can go to dump your problems on someone else for 45 minutes every week. Even if you just don’t feel “right,” talking to a trained professional — not your roommate/best friend/Tuesday night hookup — can totally help.

3) Exercise. I’m not saying you should train for an Iron Man, but sweating a couple times a week clears out the stress hormones from your body and kind of resets you mentally. It’s like putting fresh sheets on your brain.

4) Get a hobby. I embroider swear words in really pretty lettering when I’m feeling anxious. The concentration it requires keeps my mind clear, watching the stitches accumulate provides a sense of accomplishment and something about embroidering a tea towel with “Absolutely ******* not, you *******” makes me feel like I’m paying the universe back for whatever my perceived wrong of the day is. Find your version of this — or better yet, steal my hobby. We can start a club.

5) Self-affirm. Every morning, right before I leave to go to class, I look at myself in the mirror and say, “You are a delight and everybody loves you.” Before I leave to go out, I say, “You are flawless tonight” or “Your beauty instills fear and admiration in people of all genders.” Listen — it is so easy to be insecure at Dartmouth because everyone is so smart and talented and athletic and whatever else.

My insecurities paralyzed me for a long time because I was so sure that I wasn’t “good enough” to be successful here. Now I’m the vainest person I know, and you know what? I’m getting stuff done. I am 100 percent good enough to be successful, and I look fine as hell doing it. Achieve your goals by bluffing your way into good self-esteem and you’ll crush any obstacle in your path.