Some may argue that this is not realistic, that there’s no time, but if you want to stay sane as a college student, you have to find ways to de-stress. It’s all about priorities, so make sure that your own mental health is on the list if it’s not the first thing.
I’ve found that for a lot of international students, including me, mental health was simply not something we talked about back home. I was surprised to find that in my university, even some of the professors would bring attention to it. They wrote about “invisible disabilities” in their syllabi, and some mentioned the Counseling and Psychological Services the university offered.
While I think therapy can be helpful to anyone, I also think that there are a lot of things you can do to help yourself before you feel the need to seek professionals. The first is realizing the reason you are stressed. The second is finding what you can do about it.
My first three years of university, I learned that what made me the most stressed out was feeling like I had no time to do the things I loved. More than that—it was procrastinating on my assignments by watching TV shows I also loved, but not being able to enjoy it because I felt guilty I was not doing the assignment.
We, as humans, tend to feel a bit unhappy when we’re just living under someone else’s expectations; this includes classes that you hate but are required to take, papers you don’t want to write, and books you don’t understand. So, when we’re stressed, even if we try to do things we usually enjoy, it’s not satisfying if we don’t let our minds immerse fully in that enjoyable experience.
Everyone has something that makes it easier to listen to themselves and feel more at peace. I’m not really talking about the temporary escape of just turning on the TV, but actively looking for something that you can enjoy but will also leave you feeling better than before you started it. For some, indeed, specific TV shows or movies allow them to feel that. For others, it’s dancing, singing, playing instruments, or all of the above. When I’m at my worst mood, what helps me is reading very specific books, which currently are the following and this is why.
1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Most of the world has at least heard about The Little Prince. It’s a classic, published in 1943 but it is one of those books that I can unashamedly declare timeless.
When I was a child, I remember the first time I was reading it I asked my older brother if he’d ever read it before. He had when he was my age, but decided to reread it with me and said, “Wendy, when you grow up, you should read this again.” I asked him why, and he said, “Because what I took from it this time made me feel like I just read a completely different book.”
Now, I’ve read this book at least once every year I have been in college, sometimes just parts of it, other times, all of it. It’s quite short; you can definitely read it in an hour. But, the best part is that it’s not just that you read it differently every time, but a different image or a different quote stays with you depending on your situation. This book is about seeing what’s beneath the surface, innocence, love, and the way you see the world. It’s a must read, especially when you’re stressed out.
2. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
This one is way longer, but you could read it in one sitting if you tried. I did because reading this book felt like watching a movie. (Appropriately, there’s a movie adaptation from 2011 titled Hugo, which I also recommend with all my heart and soul.) The plot follows a young kid named Hugo, who lives hidden in a Parisian train station, as he finds his “purpose.” This is also a historical fiction book so you get to learn a little about French pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès.
Brian Selznick created a work of art; like The Little Prince, this book is made up of both text and illustrations. Nevertheless, The Little Prince’s are a lot simpler stylistically, and Selznick’s illustrations take up most of the pages in the book, which is why it looks so thick.
In a way, I think this book changed me, and I don’t say that lightly. I usually only say this about the Percy Jackson series, but the way this book impacted me emotionally makes me grateful that I read it too. I think I read it for the first time right before college, and to this day it makes me feel a little less lost.
3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson
Finally, here’s a nonfiction for those of you with a different taste. The full title of this book is The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. And that’s exactly what it is. I can’t say as much about this, except that it’s the only self-help book I’ve ever picked up and legitimately enjoyed. Even from the title, you know the tone of this book is blunt, sarcastic, and honestly really funny at some points, too.
I haven’t finished reading it, but Manson’s approach to how you deal with caring too much about things that simply don’t matter will truly make you reflect on your own life and journey. It can get a little too real, which is exactly why I can’t read it in one sitting, but it’s great even as an audiobook when you feel anxiety creeping in and need a voice to just tell you it’s not that big of a deal. It’s definitely an interesting perspective.
Honestly, it’s all about what makes you feel better. When it comes to books, there are infinite possibilities. Read what you like and what speaks to you in a way that makes you want to listen. For me, being too stressed out feels like a part of me is screaming inside my ears and in my chest, so I can’t hear myself. But books like these, especially the fiction ones or going back to my childhood favorites, always make it a little more nice and quiet.