It’s been a hard winter and a hard spring semester. We grow restless as the cold weather drags on long into April, and we’re given only a few of the most tantalizing warm days to enjoy. Project upon test upon essay upon book piles up before us, each clamoring to be completed and each weighing down on our mind. The libraries are packed until closing time every night. We sometimes are challenged to find the light when the sun itself seems to hide itself away. We sometimes lose our motivation and our thoughts move elsewhere, to greener and warmer pastures. We struggle to make sense of tragedy and heartbreak.
The year gradually draws to a close with what feels like a lethargic and worn-down approach. May is upon us. The promise of summer comes closer. At least for myself, it becomes even more difficult to want to be here on campus. Sometimes, anywhere’s better than here and the pressure and stress and anxiety that comes with it.
But as hard as it is, I can’t let myself go down that road. I can’t let my mind become even more burdened with the desire to leave. I can’t let my homesickness and my exhaustion build up any more. It’s all I can do to keep my head up and focused in class sometimes, but all I can do isn’t enough.
Instead, I have to do more. I have to find that motivation to break out of the lethargy and go make a moment of joy for myself. Even when the winter creeps into April and lingers long past when it should already have ceded to spring, I must find the places to go that make me happy. I must forge for myself those fleeting, temporary, altogether too short instances of joy that make this – all of it – worth the struggle.
I don’t know much about the mind or mental health. But I do know the feeling of mental exhaustion and the weight of stress and anxiety that can bring you down. I know how that shadow feels, and I know the pall it casts over all of your experiences. And I, at least, have managed to keep it at bay, some of the time.
It takes those infinitesimally small moments to change my outlook. They’re rarely longer than an hour at most, and the shortest are only a second. But they’re moments when the metaphorical clouds part and you feel yourself lighten a little bit. The anxiety disappears for just a little bit, but that makes all the difference.
I’ve found that it isn’t all that constructive to hope to just try to eliminate that feeling in one go. I can’t aim for “happiness” as a general state, hoping that my life will take on a quality of joy as its characteristic. Rather, I work to make a single instant joyful, or illuminating, or even just peaceful. I aim to break down my life into short flashes rather than take it as a whole. That way, each little piece I can work to change as it comes. And because it’s so small-scale, I don’t have to worry about reaching for joy in life, just for joy in the moment. As this happens, the things that make me feel happy become so much smaller. In the winter I might step outside into the cold, blowing snow, take a deep breath, and appreciate the feeling of the snow against my skin. In the spring, I could look out at the Green Mountains and just stand in wonder for a half-second at the beauty that millions of years of geological evolution have brought for me to see.
What I realized was, these weren’t new feelings. I had always appreciated the snow and the mountains. I had not, however, focused on those senses and separated them.
It’s hard. It’s still not second nature for me. I still have to consciously remind myself to notice what’s around me and to appreciate it, however small it is. But over time it has helped me, and I think now I know why.
I believe that it helps because it is such a uniquely human ability to break down each day into its individual moments and to notice those things that exist outside of a routine. We are an incredible species solely in that we can stop in the midst of our daily responsibilities, stand still, breathe and find pleasure in those short, fleeting, but beautiful events that color our lives. I’ve found that being able to find that outside of the tunnel vision of routine lets you feel more alive, and to even more fully appreciate what it means to live. After all, even when you’re feeling down, in a sense that feeling is still unbelievable in that it is a signal that you’re alive, you’re breathing and you possess a mind capable of sadness and stress, but also joy and passion.
So even when the spring isn’t as warm as we would like and even when the work piles up in front of us, let’s all just take a moment every so often and breathe. Just stop in the middle of walking to your next class and take twenty seconds to breathe in deeply and to gaze out at the land around us. Take a moment in the evening and spend a couple minutes just standing outside and looking up at the stars. I’ve found that these small escapes do a lot to help you feel a little bit better and a little more alive.