Take A Break: Don’t Invalidate Negative Emotions

“Do you ever keep eating even when you are so full just to feel alive?” I debated whether or not to ask my best friend this question over Zoom. The question blurted itself out as my hand, once again, reached into the chocolate bag and then to my mouth. 

Over the past few weeks, I have been rummaging every corner of my room for things I could snack on day and night. Having been a healthy eater and runner all summer, I found myself at a kind of loss. You may not have had the same stress eating pattern as I did, but chances are you have experienced feelings of being lost and stale. And sometimes, as it is in my case, for no apparent reason. 

I really should not be the one to complain. As an international student who lived in the U.S. over the summer, I have been able to evade most of the travel restrictions and ICE nonsense. I have just finished a great summer internship while watching many of my friends’ internships get canceled. I have been able to FaceTime my friends and family, all of whom are well given the circumstances. I have had some time to exercise, read, write and think. 

As a Chinese student whose tuition payment is taken care of by her parents, I am privileged compared to many. But I am also disprivileged because of my immigration status: I am only able to legally stay in the U.S. on my student visa, which will expire soon and I would need to find a high-paying job soon after college to stay. But even that plan carries many uncertainties now because of the capricious nature of China and U.S. foreign policies. Censorship, the right to remain in one land, length of stay… everything is temporary, fluctuant. The recent policy changes and attempted alterations left me feeling like I could be kicked out any second by the U.S. government and shut up anytime by my home country China.

But these are not the reasons why I have been struggling to do anything “useful” for school or for my desired career paths. I have had those privileges all along and these uncertainties all along. But I am not an aggregation of reasons. Emotions and feelings don’t come and go with privileges or disprivileges. Life is not a scale.

I cut myself loose and ate and slept and did no work and I still felt empty and alone, insignificant and lost. Maybe it is a common reaction to quarantine. I’ve heard about it on the news — campus news, national news and international news. A friend tried to tell me that she felt this way during the spring semester. I never understood her experiences until I got here. I questioned her struggles, her efforts; back then I thought life was a scale. I thought you couldn’t feel this way for no tangible reason.

Over the course of the spring semester, I was caught up in my work. I functioned on an “I must” mentality. When you are a perfectionist who faces many immigration restrictions, you “must” do many things: obtain a relatively high GPA, demonstrate to your potential employers why you are worth them spending money to sponsor a work visa for. In the fear of being deemed unworthy of anyone’s attention, you try harder and harder to prove yourself and you lose yourself. So when my friends reached out to me about their struggles, I could not spare much of my “precious” time or attention. My friends know I’m extremely hardworking. But being hardworking in the midst of a pandemic as if nothing had happened, some people call that resilient, but a friend jokingly called it “crazy.” Half-jokingly, maybe.

Thanks to my friend, I slowly developed some sense in my head. 

When I reconnected with her over the summer, she patiently walked me through how she and many other people have been feeling this way and she welcomed me to the club. As a pledge of allegiance, I apologized to my friend for not taking out much time for her, for indulging in my own work and not checking in with her for days.

My point is rather simple (collective, many of us feel it). Sadness, lack of motivation, stress, feeling at loss – these are all human emotions that modern society tries so hard to turn away from. Even if you are experiencing these feelings without apparent reason, you are not alone. These are valid feelings. Instead of shutting them down, try to take a break from the stresses of school and life. Taking a break has never been easy in my experience, but I am finding breaks necessary during times like these. 

Among the actions I took to be more at peace: connect with loved ones, develop a routine, exercise or go for a walk outdoors, sing loudly or write quietly, space out and do not make any actions. Acknowledging a multitude of emotions is more helpful than putting on a gorgeous smile all the time.

Among the actions my friends took to help me be at ease, I’ve found the most important one to be their validation of these negative feelings.