Ever sat in a room of new people and felt like you didn’t belong there? Or ever felt as if, no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t get a good score in a certain class? These are classic scenarios of Imposter Syndrome and burnout, two mental health phenomena that are much more common than we think, especially among first-year college students. 

Imposter syndrome can be described as feeling like you have “tricked” others into thinking you’re more competent than you actually are[1]. In other words, it is feeling like you are not good enough to be in a position even though others do not perceive you the same way. Burnout is physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms induced by chronic or prolonged stress[2]. It happens when your responsibilities–whether from school, work, or home–feel so overwhelming that you feel as if you physically and mentally cannot keep up with them anymore. 

First-year college students are prone to both of these phenomena because they are entering a new environment for the first time–new people, new places, new classes, and no parents or guardians around to keep track of their responsibilities for them anymore. First-year students often take on more than they can handle with their course load in the first semester, as they may think that they should be taking five or six classes like they did in high school. They also may feel out of place in their new environment, especially when the conversation turns to courses or extracurricular activities. Trying to find a new norm, the student may compare themself to their peers, and in turn feel insufficient or underqualified to be at the school they attend. Both Imposter Syndrome and burnout are fueled by a society that’s obsessed with high productivity and hierarchies, ranking everything from professors to dorm halls to college majors from best to worst. We feel as if we must go along with these unwritten rules, but the truth is that they are unwritten for a reason: you don’t have to follow them at all! The best path is the one you choose for yourself, and here are some tips to help you get there:

Seek guidance from a mentor
All over campus, whether in MRADS, the LSA Opportunity Hub, CAPS, or even a professor’s office hours, there are older students, faculty, and other professionals ready to talk to you about whatever is on your mind. Seek out these resources early in your college career! They will be there for you whenever you need them, and chances are they’ve felt exactly the same way before. If whoever you’ve found as a mentor is unavailable when you need them, ask if they can connect you with someone who is available. There is always help for you. Personally, I feel comfortable reaching out to my Peer Mentor when I am feeling overwhelmed, as he always reminds me that he is there for me. MRADS Director Dr. Adam Simon is also someone I feel comfortable talking to, as he has experienced similar struggles as I have.

Practice setting boundaries
Learning how to say “no” isn’t just a lesson on stranger danger from elementary school. You are allowed to–and encouraged to!--set boundaries with everyone you cross paths with in life. Friends, family, romantic partners, work, school, you name it, you are allowed to dictate your relationship with them. Make sure that you feel comfortable in every situation you are in and speak up if you aren’t. When you first begin to set boundaries, you may feel very uncomfortable. However, people with whom you have a healthy and supportive relationship will understand if you need to say no–you can always take a raincheck! If someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, chances are they don’t respect your wants, your needs, or your goals, either. If a situation like this arises, talk with a trusted faculty member or professional about getting away from it–staying in unhealthy relationships only contributes to Imposter Syndrome and burnout, as well as other mental health struggles.

Establish a good self-care routine
“Self-care” is a big buzzword heard all over social media these days. We hear it so much that it may be hard to put a finger on what exactly “self-care” really means. Self-care is any hobby that helps you relax and makes you feel good; it can be yoga, drawing, playing video games, going for a walk, or even taking a nap! Self-care is about taking care of you! Establishing a good self-care routine by regularly scheduling breaks and time to engage in your favorite activities is crucial to preventing burnout and Imposter Syndrome. You need time to connect with and remind yourself that you are skillful and capable. MRADS Sophomores and RAs plan lots of events centered around self-care, like yoga, pot painting, and walks in the Arb. These events help motivate me to take care of myself during the busy parts of the semester!