Thoughts of “Please bring me back to my high school years!” and “Get me out of here!” are filling the minds of university students these days, especially those of freshmen. Assignments and group projects are piling up, mid-term exams are around the corner, and then you realise that the only class participation you have done is attendance. We thought graduating from high school would be a liberating experience. We thought we were going to have theperfect university life - scoring a perfect GPA, being surrounded by good friends and finally meeting our soulmates. Inevitably, some dreams have to remain just that and as difficult as it may seem, we have to accept it. Otherwise, it can cause severe anxiety, and even depression. In fact, more than 60% of college students admitted that they experienced overwhelming anxiety (Wolverton, 2019) and the last thing we want to happen is for SMU students to increase that huge number.
According to the creator and co-author of 101 Ways to Conquer Teen Anxiety, Jon Patrick Hatcher, one of the causes of college students’ depression is the difficulty of transitioning - university life is after all a whole new world for us. First of all, we have to adapt to the vigorous study habit. The fact that the library is always packed with people completing their assignments or studying can be extremely overwhelming. When we find ourselves not doing the same thing, we feel guilty. Even sitting in the library and hearing someone furiously type away on a laptop can drive us crazy. Although they may just be logging in to their emails or messaging their friends, we feel worried, stressed, and depressed. International students have it even worse, as they are more vulnerable to feelings of homesickness, being so far away from home and their loved ones. We think to ourselves, “Why does everyone seem to have a wonderful life?” But little do you know, from others’ perspectives, you look like you are the one living a wonderful life.
Our urge to make friends – best friends – can be another cause of anxiety. Some may say that in order to survive university, you need a strong support system. However, it is extremely challenging to create strong bonds at university since we have different classes, schedules and majors. We may have made some good friends that we met during orientation camps, but that’s that. They are what we call ‘hi-bye’ friends - people we are not close to at all. The advice we receive from seniors are sometimes not applicable either. They tell us to join Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs) to make close friends because those in the same CCA tend to share similar interests and meet rather frequently. Unfortunately, nothing comes easy at university. We have to pass various interviews and tests, and many of us get rejected. Us who do not have enough confidence. Us who are always nervous during interviews. Us who do not have enough experience.
This brings me to the next cause of anxiety - self-esteem, or lack thereof. Especially for university students, we are young and often misunderstood. When the time comes for us to have interviews with our future employers or to propose business ideas to the CEOs of companies, we freak out. The more nervous we are, the more we do not know what to say. Even worse, we talk incoherently. One thing we have to keep in mind is this – they are humans too. They were once young and have weaknesses too. Who knows, they might not even have developed a skill that you have right now when they were your age. You have the same, or even more capabilities than they do. Therefore, you should not be afraid or worried about it.
Another renowned reason for depressed college students is not being able to meet their parents’ expectations. Before we entered SMU, some of us were probably topping our classes or at least did fairly well in school. Knowing that we are studying in one of the best universities in Singapore, our parents can’t help but feel proud. This puts pressure on us because we do not want to shatter that image, and as a result, we have to keep up with their high expectations. They want us to have a good GPA, intern at big firms and the list goes on. The pressure of wanting to fulfill all of our parents’ expectations is undeniably high. However, the thing is, you do not have to meet all of those expectations. At the end of the day, what your parents want is for you to be happy. Do what you love and know that there is a plethora of things beyond what your parents may expect that can still draw a smile on their faces.
So, every time you are stressed and feel like giving up, recall the days when you said to yourself, “I will do anything to get into SMU.” Think about why you are doing what you are doing at this moment. You will get through this. It is indeed a long journey, so make it a great one. Remember that everyone is just as confused as you are and that is okay. We are all in this together.