Speak Your Mind: Students battle mental blocks to find success in-class and off-campus

Anika Mittu, Reporter

ANIKA MITTU: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Anika Mittu. Welcome to Speak Your Mind, a weekly podcast dedicated to discussing mental health and self-care on Northwestern’s campus. Our goal is to facilitate a conversation about mental health that goes in-depth about what students are really experiencing and try to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health.

ANIKA MITTU: With Northwestern students dealing with end-of-quarter stress and the search for summer internships, many students are balancing packed schedules. But for some, there is another stressor on top of all of the work: mental blocks. Mental blocks can occur when an individual is stalled by their own mindset, which often stops them from achieving a goal. One common example is writer’s block, which can be defined as an inability to keep writing a piece of work, like an essay or an article. Communication sophomore Ally Hill is one of those people who experienced writer’s block with cover letters for internship applications.

ALLY HILL: Writing cover letters and all this stuff for careers, and in general thinking about my future and my career is very anxiety-inducing for me. And I get very nervous and scared. So when I have a lot of applications that I’m trying to do, it definitely can sometimes make me just want to stop, or just get overwhelmed with all the work that I’m putting in front of myself.

ANIKA MITTU: Though her situation is stressful, Ally said that she adds to the problem by putting stress and pressure on herself.

Most of the reasons that I get mental blocks is because I think that what I’m doing isn’t going to be good. And so I’m thinking that my peers are gonna judge me or something. That’s just pressure that I’m putting on myself. It’s not really them. It’s all sort of in my head.

ANIKA MITTU: The blocks lead Ally to procrastinate, which she tries to fight off by working out and playing volleyball.

ALLY HILL: I think exercise really helps clear my mind and just boost my mood in general, so if I’m getting really stressed, if I start exercising, it really helps me because I don’t think about anything else I have to do besides exercising which is really good and I just also feel better about myself.

ANIKA MITTU: Ally isn’t alone in feeling a fear of not being enough. Psychologist Amanda Crowell defines this phenomenon as defensive failure. Defensive failure can stop a person from achieving their goals because their brain wants to protect them from potential failure. For some, impostor syndrome can lead to defensive failure, making someone feel like they are inadequate and unable to achieve their goals. Weinberg freshman Aarthi Kottapalli experiences this feeling in her chemistry class and sometimes feels overwhelmed with the range of emotions she experiences from her mental blocks. When it comes to preparing for her exams, this feeling spikes.

AARTHI KOTTAPALLI: I’d say it goes between states of numbness, being really sad and then pure panic because initially, I’m like, “Oh, I just feel like I can’t do this.” I put it off. And then I start trying to work on it and I just get sad because I don’t know what to do. And then it gets to exam days or something and I start panicking.

ANIKA MITTU: But Aarthi’s impostor syndrome extends beyond the gen chem classroom, with some roots in the general Northwestern culture.

AARTHI KOTTAPALLI: There’s not one generalization of all Northwestern students, but I feel like a lot of kids here are very much like, “I went to grind all day today.” And that’s good. It’s good to be studying all the time. And then there’s also the group of people who are like, “I don’t want to study.” It’s okay, whatever. So I feel like when you have the clashing of those two types of students, it makes it really confusing for you, if you don’t know which type you are to figure out how to balance both. On one hand, your friend might be like, “Oh, there’s a party,” and your other friend is like, “I have a study room reserved in Mudd from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.” So I think that general confusion of what should I be doing is not helpful at all for people with imposter syndrome.

ANIKA MITTU: To help cope with her impostor syndrome, Kottapalli has found friends in the class who want to do well, but also care about helping others achieve.

AARTHI KOTTAPALLI: I think recently, I’ve been spending more time with people in the class who are supportive because I was feeling that lack of support. Like a good group of people who I can tell actually want to help me and would be happy if I succeeded. I just think surrounding myself with good people.

ANIKA MITTU: When Kottapalli does well in chemistry, she feels incredibly happy — even if that high fades eventually.

AARTHI KOTTAPALLI: I’m like, “Wow, I’ve done it. I’m amazing. I’m the best I could do anything.” And reality kicks in a little bit after, but right in that moment, it’s like, “Oh my god, I am the best.”

Although students can experience mental blocks in any aspect of their lives, from their own school work to internship applications, there are ways to avoid defensive failure. Crowell suggests reminding yourself of why you are pursuing your goals. Your personal reason for pursuing your goals should be stronger than the motivation to do what other people expect from you. She also suggests recording your mistakes, which can help you move past initial embarrassment to accept and normalize your failures. Through these techniques, it may be possible to start moving past mental blocks and achieve goals a little easier. That’s all we have for today on Speak Your Mind. I’m Anika Mittu, and thanks for listening.

ANIKA MITTU: This episode was reported and produced by me, Anika Mittu. It was edited by Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava. The editor in chief of The Daily Northwestern is Troy Closson.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @anika_mittu