Yesterday, I had recess again. Ohio State Counseling and Consultation Services and various collaborators created a playground on the South Oval. I came the moment it began, excited to be a kid again, to have unapologetic fun. My friend and I blew bubbles in each other’s faces, chased them on the wind. We made our initials in the loom strung between the trees, put up our Six Word Stories. I guiltlessly created trail mix that was all chocolate chips and painted a small family of rock friends. All around us, other students were taking a break to run through the bouncy house, make animal balloons, break boards. The air sang with laughter and silliness and the ease of kindergarten fun.
Throughout the playground, different signs explained different ways to play. The Artist, the Joker, the Collector, the Storyteller, etc. You were to get a stamp at each station and turn it in at the end. But on the back of your hall pass, it asked you-what do you know about playing and mental health? What have you learned?
What did I know? I know the names and terminology. I know the difference between stressed and anxious, and the impact they can have on how you eat, feel, live. I’ve always been cognizant, knew the dangers, the pitfalls and that it’s a rising problem for my demographic. The status of a college student can be an odd one. We’re not children, but we’re not grown-up. We’re adult enough to be arrested, to held accountable for our actions, to pay rent and to hold responsibilities. Yet, we’re not adult enough to be considered independent in the eyes of the law, not adult enough to be seen as part of the work force, to be seen as a fully formed person. We still have the excuse, “I am a college student,” but we also have the chiding statement, “You are a college student.” This tenuous stance, the various pressures of college, midterms, organizations, pre-track requirements, succeeding, figuring out who we are, figuring out who we’re going to be—they pile on students and the result can become a perpetual monster on their back.
Within the last few months, it’s become closer to me. I’ve seen my friends struggle with their own monsters. With stress, with mental health disorders, with social anxiety, with depression. I have seen those close to my heart struggle to get out of bed, fight to still their hands so the rest of the group doesn’t notice that they’re having an anxiety attack; cry, silent and heartbreaking, so that no one “is bothered.”
Mental health issues are as real, and as trying, as physical issues, but still we have a stigma. We still have to reiterate the realness of these trials. We still have to educate students about how to take care of themselves, to safeguard their mental health just as they do their physical.
So what did I learn? One way to do protect your mental health is to take time to play—and I’m guilty of forgetting.
I love to keep busy, love to feel like I’m contributing something to someone every moment. I’m the girl who brings work from her research lab on her summer vacation to Disney World. I looked at my schedule at the beginning of the year—consisting of 18 credit hours, an internship, research, weekly volunteering, three organizations where I hold executive positions, making sure I had time for friends and visits home—and felt like I didn’t have enough to do. On weekdays when I’m all done with homework, I email friends for work to do, often editing resumes, papers or something similar to keep my mind engaged. My color-coded schedule has exhausted ROY G. BIV, and ventured into his extended family of hues.
In the past, I’ve scheduled the activities that I enjoy to coincide with my work. Combined crafting with organization meetings, combined learning more about society with a research project. It’s a wonderful system; it makes me excited to do work. And that’s how it should be. But sometimes, that puts more pressure on you, pushes stress and worries into something that should be truly relaxing, until the line between fun and work becomes too smudged to differentiate.
At this event, I wasn’t thinking about the paper I had to finish later that night. I wasn’t thinking about prepping the next MUNDO meeting or if I had studied enough for the practice MCAT. The only thing on my mind was eating mini chocolate chips. Blowing the bubbles so they hit my friend square in the face. Seeing how many different smiles I could paint on these rocks. Playtime is something that I will strive to keep alive in my everyday routine. Taking time to play is important. It safeguards your health, centers you so that you re-enter that pressure cooker space between child and adult, and reminds you of the simple joy of recess.