Ask Abby: approaching professors, life in fast forward

| April 15, 2014 | 1 Comment

Q: I often want to talk to professors about intellectual ideas, but I find myself clamming up and feeling extremely vulnerable when I go to talk to that person.

I’m OK in class and in a lot of social situations, but then I go to talk to a professor, and it seems like I’m looking for any sign that the person doesnít really want to hear my question.

I wind up leaving professors’ offices without asking the questions that are really on my mind. So I retreat to sending e-mails instead.

I know e-mails aren’t as good as, or as satisfying as, face-to-face conversations, so I try to do the face-to-face thing, but then I clam up.

It feels so stupid – all I’m doing is talking about intellectual things, not personal stuff. It’s really making it hard for me to get the mentoring I need in graduate school.

I love what I’m doing in graduate school, but I really could use some mentoring to help keep me moving toward my goals.

A: Dear Clammy,

Your insight into this concern is awesome. You’re right, talking about intellectual stuff opens you up to the possibility of being told you’re wrong, or worse, not intelligent!

You already have a good sense of your professors, and you’re smart enough to know if they would be open to mentoring you.

The next step is to sit with that clammy feeling and vulnerability. Next time you go to office hours, go about 5-10 minutes ahead.

Before you walk in the door, while you’re feeling clammy, try taking some deep breaths. Feel your belly filling up and emptying with air.

If you hear your brain trying to tell you to leave, or telling you the professor might be mean, remind yourself that just because your brain says something doesn’t make it true.

Once you get into the conversation, things will go more smoothly than you might think.

Professors love to hear that they have sparked interest and enthusiasm in their students! Trust your intelligence.

Q: Ever since I started college I’ve been living each day as if it were your last.

Well, I’m beginning to wish that each day was my last. Not that I want to die or anything, but I’m just so tired.

I’m graduating in May and have an awesome boyfriend and friends. I play on a sports team and everything seems perfect, but I’m so exhausted that my fondest dream is to pass out and wake up in isolation.

I have all these great accomplishments, but I’m not enjoying any of them – I don’t have time! Why am I doing all this? Am I mentally ill?

A: Dear Fast-Forward,

Take a deep breath. No – literally – take a deep breath. I’ll wait. It sounds like you are doing an awesome job managing all the different things on your plate right now. But like you said, you’re not really enjoying them, but just going through the motions. The good news is that no, you’re not mentally ill, unless you count YOLO-ing as a mental illness.

What you’re doing is something psychologists call “running on the happiness treadmill.” Rather than enjoying where you currently are, you’re chasing the next exciting accomplishment.

It’s impossible to enjoy wonderful experiences when we are too busy thinking ahead to the next task. My advice is to spend some time being “mindful”, or paying attention to, what you’re doing in the moment that you’re doing it. Eating an awesome meal with friends? Great! Now focus on how good it tastes and how much you enjoy the people who are with you, rather than making a to-do list for tomorrow mid-bite.

Being in the moment helps us appreciate what we have now, instead of working toward getting to the future. Step off the treadmill.

Abby Hardin is a UNC Charlotte Ph.D student in Clinical Health Psychology and an instructor. She also works as a mental health counselor at a local CMC clinic. If youíd like your question answered in a future edition of Ask Abby, email askabby@nineronline.com. Remember, no question is too big or too small.

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  1. Emily says:

    I am not a huge fan of Niner Times, but I do pick it up once in a while to see what’s going on around campus. I was somewhat startled by what I read in the second part of this column.

    As a doc student in psychology and a “mental health counselor at a local CMC clinic” as your bio states, I thought you’d have approached the topic of mental health with a little more sensitivity. You are no doubt aware of the immense stigma associated with mental illness and can probably list of the top of your head the warning signs of suicide. Fast Forward expressed a loss of interest in things once found pleasurable, wrote about feeling hopeless despite having good things going on, feeling isolated, wishing for death, and feeling extremely tired all the time.

    That sounds a little bit like depression to me, a MSW student and local mental health advocate. I know it’s impossible to tell from a few short sentences, but I’m wondering why you didn’t recommend this individual seek out guidance from someone at the Counseling Center on campus or list the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255​) for good measure.

    Life is full of ups and downs, and feeling tired and uncertain is part of college. But you don’t have to tackle these negative thoughts and feelings on your own. Hang in there!

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