3 Ways to Deal with Sophomore Year Existential Panic

The Sophomore Whatever

What’s the point though?

By Emily Suvannasankha, University of Central Florida


As a barely-19-year old who has experienced exactly 8 days of being a sophomore, I may not be the reigning authority on how to get through your second year of college alive.

But I can profess mastery in the art of the existential crisis—namely, the bout of discomforting vertigo that inevitably kicks you in the face during the transition from freshman to sophomore year.

Nothing’s new anymore, and the novelty of being a free adult has begun to wear off.

3 Ways to Deal with Sophomore Year Existential Panic
Photo via The Odyssey

Suddenly, finishing off a whole jar of peanut butter while sprinting through 25 episodes of “Friends” at 3 in the morning feels less like a bold demonstration of independence and instead, just a bit sad. And sticky. (Although that rarely stops me!)

For me, the jarring disconnect emerged when summer semester ended and the tumbleweeds stopped blowing past me on the way to class. Experiencing move-in week and the first few days of school as someone who already lives on campus was bizarre, to say the least. There’s an uncanny sense of removal that washes over you as you watch the freshmen haul in the bikes they won’t ever use, the beanbag chairs that’ll soon get squashed in a corner and the poor, plodding parental units who just can’t seem to find the bathroom.

Returning second-years begin to feel disillusioned; trekking through the next three years of exorbitantly expensive education suddenly sounds less appealing than it did when they were fresh spring bunnies. The hair on your physics professor’s head starts looking a bit grayer, the giant pretzels in the Union a smidge floppier.

So if you’re curled up here on the kitchen floor with me, rolling around and wondering when college life became so flaming familiar, take heed in my words of youthful wisdom. The magic can be recaptured—or rather, throttled awake and forcibly resuscitated like the gasping beached whale it is. All it takes is a little fiddling with the cognitive formula.

1. Take a Screwdriver to Your Habits

…For the tweaking, you understand. Yes indeedy, I find that lightly modifying the mundane activities you do day in-and day-out is extremely effective in easing the heartbreak of sophomore despondency.

You don’t have to overthrow your entire life, either; just a few minor, possibly even arbitrary adjustments should do the job just fine. Take a shower at high noon instead of midnight (or vice versa, for you crazy midday showerers). Buy cherry yogurt at the grocery store instead of raspberry. Part your hair on the opposite side for a day. Use your roommate’s bath towel, just for the thrill o’ the ride. I know, I’m really sending you off the deep end. Baby steps, friends.

The point here is to trick your brain into thinking your life is fresh and new again by introducing enough yogurt-related adventure to flip the switch. Personally, I’ve found that stacking a bunch of tiny differences on top of each other like this until there’s a gigantic ball of newness screaming “CHANGE!” directly in my face works quite marvelously to get my sorry ass off the ground. And the towel soaks up the puddle of tears, so that’s a nice bonus.

Here are some less eccentric but definitely more impactful suggestions, for those who genuinely want to shake things around for Year Two: Drag yourself to a new club. Throw words at some foreign faces. Rent a kayak and sail it in your college’s lake every Saturday morning. (Just make sure your legs don’t go numb right before disembarking. You will end up the soggy, regretful object of much mockery.)

Such bitty tweaks to your routine may seem pointless, but if you’re as stuck in a rut as I often become after months of cruising on default mode, a neat pile of them can do wonders to help you fully appreciate your hard-earned freedom again.

2. Do Something Stupid and Irrational

For the truly inconsolable woebegones, strange and bold measures may need to be taken in order to shock the unfamiliarity back into your life.

I count my sodden self among those sad sacks of despair—which is why I dyed half my hair purple two weeks ago. My only good reason for such a bleach-filled fashion statement: attempting to prompt myself to be marginally more social by way of a wilder hair color. Sweep my behavior along in the wave of change, if you will. Change one big thing, change ‘em all!

Chop your hair off. Dye your eyelashes unicorn blue. Redecorate the apartment with Harambe posters. Start wearing your Minions pajamas to class. Buy a Razor scooter and glide across campus, just to show everyone what an adult you really are.

3 Ways to Deal with Sophomore Year Existential Panic
Photo via The Odyssey

Of course, if you’re ready to chuck your inhibitions out the window, I’ve got a much more exotic proposition for you: Experiment with your speaking style and see if anyone picks up on it. Start slipping words like “penultimate” and “audacious” into your everyday vocabulary and watch the question marks blossom in your peers’ pupils.

Even better, call someone’s mother a “verminous harlot” and judge them by whether they get offended or confused. Have fun! Why not be weird? Friends? Pshh. Who needs ‘em?

What I’m getting at here is that doing something big, weird and totally outlandish gets you back in the college spirit, reminds you that these are your years specifically postmarked for a healthy dose of fucking around.

That’s the beautiful thing about higher education: Your actions and appearance can be as absurdly inane as you damn well please. As long as you’re not streaking across the university president’s front lawn, no one can tell you otherwise, because you’re paying to be an uninhibited idiot. (Let’s be honest—compared to the exhilarating freedom to attend your astronomy lecture sans proper pants, the “learning” thing falls slightly secondary.)

3. Stage a Performance Demonstrating Your Woes

That is, share your existential distress with your friends and family. I’m sure they’d like nothing more than to sit through a three-hour monologue detailing how life definitely peaked in freshman year and everything—yes, everything—is bad.

No, but really, you’d be surprised how humorous you can make your own personal anguish. Don’t be afraid to employ some good old-fashioned histrionics!

Take it from me: With enough sarcasm and self-deprecation, any trivial catastrophe can be turned into quality entertainment for whomever is lucky enough to be listening.

If my daily habits are any indication, fellow second-years are highly amused when you roll out of bed and open up the breakfast dialogue with an impassioned, “What’s the point of it all?”

Most importantly, publicly wringing out your heartache like a soggy towel is cathartic. Spilling your soul about how odd it is that you’re somehow still here (and with three years to go, at that!) feels like an enormous exhalation of relief, especially when you’re surrounded by fellow almost-not-teenagers who inevitably feel the same.

Believe me, as a veritable sophomore nutcase who just spent 45 minutes feeling the vibrations of my refrigerator and pondering where I went wrong—please, do yourself a favor and make the words. Put ‘em in the air. Shoot ‘em towards other people, like I’m told those so-called “functional human beings” do.

Articulating your disenchantment with college life to other sophomores will likely remind you why you’re not entirely unchained to flap out into the world yet. The rosy first installment of the narrative is over, but the rest is even better—less flashy newness, more comforting progress to adulthood. (Or, in my case, the modest urn I’ve prepared for when I die an early death from unemployed starvation.)

It’s best to leave freshman year as what it was: a blindingly bright light in your eyes that has finally gotten out of your way. Now you’re free to laugh at the bumbling first-years who forget to put water in their Easy Mac and burn down their dorm buildings with a wiser, more experienced perspective.

Or at least try. Otherwise, the cognitive dissonance may well be fatal.

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