Mind the Gap: Checking in with small talk

We’ve all been there before: writing the whole paper the day before it’s due, scrambling to review material seconds before the exam, juggling extracurriculars. This university is full of opportunities that seem unending at times. Throughout our time here, especially during freshman year, there is an insidious pressure to “make the most of your time.”

There is a type of interaction, however, that I have experienced (and participated in) that only leads to being less healthy and often less productive. When interacting in daily school life, I’ve noticed one fairly common script for quick conversation:

1. You ask your friend how they are doing. They respond “Fine!” or “Good!” out of pure habit.

2. If you go on to talk about classes, both of you list off all the responsibilities you each have in rapid succession. Often, you will convey these responsibilities with a sense of vital urgency and a bit of shame for not having done more yet.

These types of interactions are ‘easy’ – socially scripted to the point where you may find yourself telling the same monologue to different people multiple times a day. This is really where such behavior can do more harm than good. I’m not going to tell you to rattle off your full emotional state to anyone who asks how you’re doing; that’s tiring both for you and for this kind-of friend who was just trying to exchange niceties. Your depth of response should depend on your relationship with the person in question. But when one asks, “How are you doing?” it’s a good opportunity to check in with yourself. How am I feeling today? How are things going? Giving yourself and this friend-ish person a short and more thought-out response can give you a shred of perspective in an environment where it’s easy to get caught up with small setbacks.

Then, when you think about all the work that you want to vent about not having done, try to balance out the conversation by first rationalizing the ways in which you’re doing well and what you’ve been doing for yourself in the day. Thinking about how you cooked yourself a great breakfast or had a fun date with a friend or even being proud about having gotten out of bed — these are all important ways to validate the work you put into your own body and mind. Finally, if you have to talk about work, try to instead think about all the work you have been doing. Acknowledge how much you do week to week, and try to frame things as not only effort but as a way to give back to yourself: “My sociology readings are so long, but it feels really good to know what I’m talking about in class discussions.” Finding a balance between understanding how hard it is to be a student and valuing the emotional work you’re doing is key. Time socializing, resting and working on hobbies are also the keys to being a balanced student.

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