As a transfer student, coming to UBC was an academic culture shock. I came from a small town in the middle of nowhere Ohio, to a bustling and competitive top-rate university on the outskirts of a big city. While I was so excited to be surrounded by students who cared about academics and put forth a lot of effort, I also noticed that the competitive environment was difficult on my mental health. I wanted to keep up with everybody and so I pushed myself as hard as I could. This resulted in burnout, imposter syndrome, and constant negative self-talk. I did not want to acknowledge my mental health throughout my first year as I saw it as a weakness. Although by the end of my first year at UBC, I realized that something had to change and that my current mindset was not sustainable.
My Journey with Self-Compassion
At the start of the pandemic, I started seeing an amazing therapist who helped me realize that the best way to make it through university was to be kind to myself. Only negative results came from beating myself up if I missed a class or did not do well on a midterm. So with my therapist’s assistance, I started to practice self-compassion. To me, self-compassion means to treat myself and my actions as I would a close friend. Instead of getting down on myself for not accomplishing everything on my to-do list, I let myself know that “it’s okay, you did what you could today, and you’ll try your best again tomorrow”. I have noticed that simple things like changing my internal reactions have kept burnout at bay for a much longer period than in my first year, along with boosting my productivity since I am not as hard on myself about small things. Not only have I seen results in academics, I also feel better mentally, which is better than any productivity boost. This cognitive technique to change negative thoughts into positive ones is called “reframing” and is often used by therapists in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I encourage you to look further into reframing if you think that it might be helpful. Here is a great article about reframing and you can find many worksheets online by simply searching “Reframing CBT worksheets”.
There are some other ways to practice self-compassion other than reframing thoughts. You could also develop self-care routines that you put into place when you feel overwhelmed. I personally have a few different routines differing in lengths of time depending on how much free time I have. If I only have a few minutes, I put in my headphones and listen to my classical music playlist while taking deep breaths. If I have ten to fifteen minutes, I will make a cup of tea and watch a short YouTube video. Lastly, if I have a larger amount of time, I will have some tea, journal a bit about why I am overwhelmed, and then either listen to music or watch an episode of TV. These routines will be different for everyone, but I found it helpful to type them in a note on my phone with the labels “small”, “medium”, and “large” so that I can refer to that note anytime I feel overwhelmed and need to take a moment to myself. I have a few different routines for each label since the same thing does not work every time.
Communicating Your Struggles
Lastly, another important way to practice self-compassion is to communicate with those around you if you are having a hard time. I think a lot of the time university students are reluctant to share their difficulties with their friends because “oh, they have it worse than me right now, so why bother them”. This comparison can lead to avoidance and minimization of your feelings, which will eventually lead to a build up of unacknowledged emotions that may affect your mental health worse than if you were to handle them in the moment. Your friends are there for you to lean on when times get hard. Just think, would you do the same for them? If the answer to that question is yes, then try and see what happens!
It can be difficult to start a conversation where you have to be vulnerable and it takes practice to start to feel comfortable with it. If you feel a bit hesitant, feel free to message your friend, saying something like “Hey, would you be free to chat for a bit soon? I have something important to get off my chest and I think I might feel better if I talk about it with you”. You can also bring it up when you are hanging out with them, saying something like “could we have a serious talk for a minute? I’m feeling stressed and I think it might help if I talk about it with you”. Although not specific to this situation, Chapman Learning Commons has an excellent toolkit on how to communicate your needs, which can be applied to initiating a difficult conversation and can be found here.
As a parting note, please remember that if we treat ourselves as we would our friends, we would all be a lot kinder to ourselves. We all deserve kindness and respect, especially to ourselves and even if we failed a midterm or are having a hard time grasping a topic in class. So try to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion.
Support and Resources
UBC has some fantastic resources available if you would like to seek mental health assistance. First off is the Wellness Centre, which offers workshops on various topics such as time management, sexual health, and mental health literacy. The Wellness Centre is located in the Life Building. If you would like to book a mental health doctor’s appointment through UBC, you can do so through the Student Health Service, but please note that if it is your first mental health appointment, you will need to call to schedule. Additionally, if you subscribe to the AMS Health and Dental insurance plan, you can be covered for therapy appointments for up to $1000 each year. For more details on this, please visit the AMS Health and Dental Plan website and before seeing a mental health practitioner, verify with the AMS Health and Dental Plan provider that your practitioner is covered.
Lastly, feel free to check out these resources on self-compassion:
- Self compassion research from UBC: https://wellbeing.ubc.ca/encouraging-self-compassion
- Speakeasy Peer Supporter Article: https://www.ams.ubc.ca/stories/practice-self-compassion-for-better-mental-health/