I’m an only child and an introvert. So, I’m sure you can imagine what my Freshman year of college was like for me, living in a 10’x13’ room with a roommate, paper thin walls with neighbors who loved to play guitar at all hours of the day, daily construction under my window, and a semi-functioning bathroom.
Unlike a lot of college freshies, I didn’t experience homesickness, but I absolutely experienced cabin fever. By Christmas break, my dorm room was about to become The Shining.
Now, a sidenote: I love my roommate, and we’re still roommates to this day (albeit we’ve upgraded to a house rather than a glorified, overpriced cardboard box). But, the adjustment period to living in a dorm was rough.
There are so many things about dorm-life that are truly unique and fun. Buy a door stopper, prop your door open, get a hammock and a cappuccino maker, and you can instantly make an entire floor-full of friends.
There are tons of late-nights filled with board games and laughter, and so many other fun experiences. But, for an introvert, and especially an only child, as fun as the experience may be, it’s really easy to be drained to the point of insanity.
I went through this experience the hard way, and it took me months to figure out how to find day-to-day sanity in the dorms. So, in order to save you the aggravation and mental exhaustion, I’ve compiled some tips here for you. Consider this the Introvert’s Guide to the Galaxy[Dorm].
1. Schedule Alone Time
Freshman year is a time where you’re busy making yourself busy. You’re trying to make friends, take classes, join clubs, figure out the city you’re in – it’s incredibly easy to fill up every hour of every day.
The first thing you need to learn to do is how to actually schedule time to spend by yourself. If you’re Type-A like me, maybe this means physically blocking out two hours on your calendar, but however, you decide to go about it, make sure you stick to it.
“Make sure that your roommate knows that you need alone time.”
This should be time that you just spend doing things that are relaxing or enjoyable for you. Homework time should be separate – if you spend your alone time doing homework, you’re going to get sad quickly, trust me. Picture this as your recharging period.
If your roommate is in the room, putting on headphones might help, but there’s something about being truly alone that is really restorative in the hectic dorm environment.
I had a full-on breakdown freshman year because I realized that I hadn’t been truly alone in months, and it was driving me crazy. I ran to the counseling office convinced something was truly wrong.
Don’t freak out.
Instead, try going on a walk around campus or going to the library to watch Netflix somewhere where people won’t bother you. Are there any good coffee shops around? Going to get coffee or eat lunch by yourself isn’t depressing or a social taboo, so don’t let that stop you.
2. Get Out of the Dorm
If you really do need to get some homework done but you’re sick of sitting at your plywood dorm desk, or your roommate is on the phone, or the person in the floor above you decided to buy a drum set (the possibilities are endless), try going somewhere different every hour.
I would oftentimes set up a system where I would do one assignment in my dorm room, the next at the library, the next at a coffee shop, and so on. This way you have alone time in-between locations, and you don’t end up feeling like a lab rat trapped in your room.
3. Let Your Roommate Know that You’re an Introvert
This might sound obvious, but I definitely didn’t even realize this is something that needs to be stated. My roommate is an extrovert, so we actually encountered a problem for the first month where she genuinely thought I was angry at her 50% of the time.
It turns out, she just never realized I was introverted because I never said anything about it. So, when I was quiet in the dorm room, she assumed it was out of anger when really, I just didn’t have anything to say and I liked the silence.
“I’m an only child and an introvert. So, I’m sure you can imagine what my Freshman year of college was like for me.”
Make sure that your roommate knows that you need alone time, but also make sure they know that it’s not a bad thing either.
Once we finally had this conversation, it alleviated a lot of the stress we were both experiencing. She knew that if I was being quiet, it just meant that I needed silence for a while, and I knew to just tell her when that was the case.
4. Just Go Somewhere
Living on campus can be so exciting and fun in so many ways, but honestly, sometimes it can also just really suck.
It’s weird because for the past twelve years from elementary school through high school, school is kind of this mystical place that you only go to when the teachers are there. But all of a sudden, school becomes this place that you never leave.
You sleep at school, you eat at school, you shower at school, you study at school, you hang out at school. Putting some distance between you and the campus can give you a much-needed mental break.
Take an afternoon and go to the mall. You don’t have to buy anything or talk to anyone, just walk around and look at things.
Go see a movie. This is great, because even if you go with friends, it’s a movie so you’re not supposed to talk. So not only do you get to see a movie, you also can spend time with people without the social expectation of conversation.
Go on a walk or a jog somewhere.
Go to a yoga class. Okay, pay attention to this one, this is a pro tip. Most yoga studios/Pilates studios/barre studios will offer a week or a month for free or at a discounted price. Try all of the free and discounted trials at every yoga studio near you. This way you can exercise and get off campus, but you again, like the movie, aren’t expected to talk.
“Putting some distance between you and the campus can give you a much-needed mental break.”
A lot of Universities will have on-campus exercise classes, but I’ve never enjoyed these because there’s always this expectation that you socialize with that one girl you recognize from Sociology class, or that guy from your Freshman Seminar tries to flirt with you, or you feel obligated to put your mat next to your lab partner when you see her because then you don’t want lab next week to be awkward.
These classes are great for making friends, but sometimes, you just need to go do something and not make friends. It sounds counterintuitive and kind of wrong, but trust me, it’s perfectly fine.
There’s a time for making friends, and there’s a time for just being around strangers – and sometimes being around strangers can almost substitute for being alone.
Or, if you’re not feeling the company of humans, go to your local humane shelter. You can take the dogs for walks or pet cats. If the employees ask you if you’re planning on adopting, don’t feel like you can’t be there, just tell them the truth – that you’re a college student living on campus and you just really needed to spend time with some animals for a while.
They won’t be mad at you, and the animals love getting attention, just make sure you allow the people who are there to get pets to spend time with the animals they’re interested in.
Ultimately, figure out what works for you, and make sure you take care of yourself. College is a time to push your comfort zone, to go do big group activities, to go meet a lot of new people, but make sure you leave time to do things for you too.
Freshman year is great, and there truly is no experience like living in the dorms. Just figure out how to find balance and you’ll be just fine.