Words for the Weary: Emotion

Engaging your emotions makes college a better experience

In order for us to thrive in the college experience, we have to nurture a key facet of our human experience: emotion. What we feel is an important part of who we are. We are students, but this does not mean that we forfeit or misplace our capacity for emotions when we come to the university.

Emotions help us register our life experience on a visceral level; this is crucial to being human. And yet, sometimes we do not engage our emotions well enough because we are moving quickly through a phase of life that demands the whole of our minds and hearts. But that is exactly why we need to make time for comprehending our world of emotions. College engenders a life of emotional challenge because we are constantly navigating relationships, ideas, academic demands and assessments.

If we attend to the feelings that come up on a regular basis, we will nurture a realistic sense of self: the self that is being changed by our time at university. You are not just a brain. You cannot separate yourself from emotions; they play a role in defining who you are. Knowing what and why we feel will help us to navigate the college experience with a sober understanding of what we are noticing, valuing, and interpreting.

“if we attend to the feelings that come up on a regular basis, we will nurture a realistic sense of self, the self that is being changed by our time at the university.”

It cannot be assumed that all emotions are helpful or desirable, but they certainly are relevant. We may not want to feel depressed, or angry, or jealous or fearful, but since these emotions are a natural part of being a person, they warrant our attention. Yes, even as we try to get all of our homework done.

Being burdened with grief, or depression or jealousy can mean needing support, and keeping these feelings at bay can mean compromising the life we intend to enhance at the university. Feelings like these that we struggle to embrace can be less ominous when we try to articulate them. Describing an emotion, such as sadness, can lead to discerning that what you feel can be resolved by understanding it better, or that there is a need for support from others.

College doesn’t just bring up difficult feelings; we also experience happiness and inspiration, both of which deserve our attention as well. Many times we can be so focused on moving things along that we fail to celebrate. One example is what happens when a professor gives us feedback which brings us joy or courage. If we are not careful, we will look at the good grade or the meaningful feedback and come away just feeling relieved we didn’t fail.

Instead, we should celebrate our accomplishments, and squeeze every bit of joy out of achievements both big and small. In this case, an emotion like happiness can lead to courage, a new sense of confidence in how future assignments will be handled. If we fail to process the joy that comes with being affirmed, we may miss the chance to build a momentum of encouraging emotion that leads to future successes.

Here’s the invitation: keep a journal to keep track of your emotional well-being on a regular basis. Be spontaneous, be scheduled, and in any case be attentive. When you write, be as specific as you can; specificity is the heart of narrative and naming your emotion means detailing the story of your life. ¬†Knowing what you feel can lead to knowing how you want your relationship with someone to change. It can mean deciding that what you feel is too difficult to manage on your own. Whatever they reveal, emotions deserve the same attention we give to our thoughts while we move forward as college students.

***Note: In the print version of the article, there was an erroneous juxtaposition of the text columns that made this article difficult to read. The article has been corrected here.

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