Meditation: How to do nothing and everything

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In this column, I’ve shared a few different mindfulness methods to help with stress and difficult situations. The uber-method, the cornerstone of mindfulness practice, is meditation. Many people try meditation and think they “can’t” do it—but, actually, they’re doing it.

Here is my favorite definition of meditation: the practice of learning to stay in the present moment and out of our heads. In recent years, psychologists have confirmed what meditators have known for millennia: Meditation is super-good for you. The full list of benefits would make this article too long, but they include reduced stress and anxiety, improved focus, and better sleep.

Distracted? You’re doing it right

We spend so much time caught up in worries, fears, memories, and anxieties. When we untangle ourselves from those mental stories and come back to the present moment, we discover a refreshing simplicity and calm.

Unfortunately, resting in the present is easier said than done. Our mental stories tend to suck us in. Letting go of them is a skill that requires training. Meditation is that training, and it’s very simple.

One more tip before you get started: Daily consistency is more important than sitting for a long time. Even a few minutes a day will bring noticeable benefits. The Tibetan masters say, “Short sessions, many times.”

4-step guide to doing nothing but actually everything

1. Sit down: Find a comfortable sitting position that lets you maintain a straight, unsupported spine. The simplest way is to sit in a chair, with both feet on the floor and hands resting on your thighs. Sitting toward the front edge of the seat may make it easier to sit straight without slouching.

2. Find your anchor: Bring your attention to your nostrils and notice the sensation of air passing through that area as you breathe. That sensation is your “anchor,” a resting place for your attention that will help you connect with the present moment.

3. Rest attention on the anchor: Rest your attention on the breath at the nostrils. Form the gentle intention simply to remain there and observe the flow of changing sensations. As you do this, there’s no need to deliberately make your breath slower, or deeper, or anything like that. If the rhythm of your breathing changes on its own, that’s fine.

4. When the attention wanders, notice that and return: You will eventually become distracted—probably pretty quickly. That’s OK. In fact, that’s what’s supposed to happen. All you do is notice that the attention has wandered and then gently escort it back to the breath at the nose, back to the present.

Give it a try (and another, and another). Enjoy!

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Sleep debt might be the reason you’re always tired—here’s how to avoid it

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When you’re all revved up for the new semester, it’s easy to skip sleep in favor of diving into your new coursework. OK, it’s easy to skip sleep in favor of Insta-scrolling, Netflix-watching, nacho-eating, just about anything. If you find yourself going too far into the wee hours of the night too often, you can technically make up a few late nights by sleeping in for a few days—but you might still be racking up serious sleep debt.

“Sleep debt is an accumulation of sleep deprivation,” says Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist in California and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Think of your sleep like a savings account, where the minimum balance has to be roughly eight hours a night (some of us might need more or less)—for every night you don’t put that amount in your sleep account, you accumulate overall sleep debt. And trust us, that can add up fast. Sleep debt is pretty common—70 percent of college students reported that they snag less than eight hours a night, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. 

Why does it matter? Not unlike managing your bank account, accumulating sleep debt can leave you feeling depleted. Lack of sleep can mess with:

Academic performance Students who are sleep deprived struggle more academically and are at a higher risk of failing compared with those who are getting enough rest on a consistent basis, says a 2014 study in Nature and Science of Sleep. “Sleep deprivation affects cognitive function directly and quickly,” says Dr. Breus.

In studies, sleep and GPA are related, but not necessarily in the ways you’d think. Consistent sleep and wake times may have more of a grade-boosting effect than logging more hours, according to a 2014 analysis of recent research in Nature and Science of Sleep. It’s not just about how long you’re sleeping, but how consistent your sleep schedule is (or isn’t).

Mood Female college students who reported nightly sleep debts of two hours or more were significantly more likely to report depressive symptoms than those with smaller debts, a 2010 study in Psychiatry Research found. What are depressive symptoms? They include everything from changes in appetite to lack of focus to blues you just can’t shake. (And this is a serious thing: If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, reach out to a friend, trusted professor, or a counselor on your campus or in your community. Because help is out there, and you matter.)

Body Sleep debt affects your bod in a number of ways: It increases the production of your hunger hormones (while suppressing the hormones that tell you you’re full), raises levels of your stress hormones, and even messes with your body’s ability to use sugar effectively, according to a 2010 meta-analysis of studies in Pediatric Endocrinology.

Sleep debt can snowball fast. The more sleep deprived you are, the less likely you might be to notice. So how do you know—and how do you fix it?

How to tell if you’re in debt

The simplest way to tell if you’re racking up sleep debt is to do the math. If the average young adult needs eight hours of sleep each night and you get only six most days of the week, by the time Friday rolls around you’re 10 hours in debt.

In most cases, the ideal level of sleep needed to keep your balance in the black is individual, says Dr. Shelley Hershner, director of the Collegiate Sleep Disorder Clinic at the University of Michigan. The average person needs somewhere between seven and nine hours nightly, but “your absolute best judgment of whether you are getting enough sleep is if you can wake up at the time you’re supposed to without an alarm clock,” she says.

Here are some other signs you might be in sleep debt:

  • You can’t sit through a lecture without getting drowsy or even nodding off.
  • You fall asleep the second your head hits the pillow.
  • You don’t wake up until the second your alarm goes off. (During a healthy night’s sleep, you should actually go through cycles of slight wakefulness.)
  • You feel drowsy during downtime, like while reading or watching TV.

To figure out how much sleep you need, test your sleep limits during a break from school when you have a solid three to four weeks to sleep as much as you want, says Dr. Hershner. “For the first week or two, you’ll probably still be catching up, but by the third week, how much you’re sleeping should be a good indication of how much your body actually needs.”

How to get out of debt

Technically, you can “pay off” your sleep debt by making up those missed hours every weekend, but playing catch-up by sleeping your weekends away isn’t ideal, partially because you’ll throw off your sleep schedule for the following week. That contributes to—you guessed it—more sleep debt. The most realistic way to get out of sleep debt is by preventing it in the first place. And the beginning of the year is the best time to do that.

Here’s how:

15 minutes earlier to bed; 15 minutes later to rise

“Would I like students to get eight hours every night? Yes. Do I think that’s realistic? No,” says Dr. Hershner. If getting to bed an hour earlier every night seems about as likely as your professors canceling lecture in favor of a class party, try to make small schedule changes like getting to bed 15 minutes earlier and streamlining your morning routine so you can sleep 15 minutes longer. You just clocked 30 more minutes.

Take one less social media break a day (Just. One.)

An easy way to score yourself those extra 15 minutes at night is to cut out one social media break during the day. We know tech use affects sleep, but interestingly enough, sleep also affects tech use: When you’re sleep deprived, you spend more time aimlessly scrolling on Facebook, suggests 2016 research from the University of California, Irvine. The higher your sleep balance, the more time you can bank toward an earlier bedtime.

Be strategic about your class schedule

“If you can have a 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. class, you’ll probably do better than if you schedule an 8 a.m. class,” says Dr. Hershner. Look for classes that have later schedules or offer recorded video lectures so you can tune in anytime.

Learn to love the nap

Girl napping on a couch

Studies show that students who take more naps do better in class. College students with GPAs of 3.5 and higher were much more likely to be nappers than were their peers with lower GPAs in a 2010 study in Sleep and Breathing. Just make sure you don’t snooze after 3 p.m., says Dr. Hershner. “That can throw off your nighttime sleep.”

Be consistent

According to Dr. Hershner, you want to try to prevent sleep debt by getting into good sleep habits—so it’s not great to fall back on the idea that you can make up all that lost sleep on the weekends. “Don’t sleep more than one to two hours longer on the weekend than you do during the week,” she says. “Say you sleep until 1 p.m. on Sunday—then it makes it hard for you to fall asleep by the time you need to get enough sleep for Monday. You’re already starting the week off behind.”

Keep your tech at arm’s length

The blue light emitted from your laptop or phone suppresses your levels of melatonin, a hormone that affects your circadian rhythms, says Harvard Health Publications. And that isn’t a good thing for your sleep. If you’re not going to unplug entirely, at least switch on your phone’s blue light filter and don’t hold it so close to you. “You want [your tech] as far from the face as possible,” says Dr. Hershner.

Use your computer after class and books before bed

Someone reading in bed

To cut out computer usage before bed, schedule your studying so you can get any computer work out of the way earlier in the evening and switch to books in the hour before bed. “If your reading is all online, print out a few chapters to read so you can shut off the computer,” says Dr. Hershner.

Track your Zs

“I have a Fitbit that tracks my sleep, so I know how much I get,” says Brandon B., a fourth-year graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Seeing the numbers helps me.” Dr. Hershner cautions that wearable trackers aren’t always accurate, but the idea behind tracking your sleep is solid if seeing your stats motivates you to stay on track. If you don’t use a wearable, explore other options that help you feel accomplished for getting a good night’s sleep, like keeping a sleep journal or using an app. We like Sleep Cycle alarm clock, and we think you might too.

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Flip your phone

Ironically enough, the more you worry about getting into sleep debt, the harder it might be for you to fall asleep. To avoid the anxiety, don’t keep a clock within view, says Dr. Hershner. Turn your alarm clock so it faces away from you and flip your phone over and put it on airplane mode when you go to sleep.

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Article sources

Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist; fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Los Angeles, California.

Shelley Hershner, MD, director of the Collegiate Sleep Disorder Clinic, University of Michigan.

DiGiulio, S. (2016, April 20). The surprising way colleges are helping their students sleep more. [Blog]. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/sleep-class-college-courses-teach-students-how-to-sleep_us_571578bae4b0060ccda425a2

Eliasson, A. H., Lettieri, C. J., & Eliasson, A. H. (2010). Early to bed, early to rise! Sleep habits and academic performance in college students. Sleep and Breathing, 14(1), 71–75.

Greenbaum, D. (2016, July 26). The 5 best night filters for Android. Guiding Tech. Retrieved from https://www.guidingtech.com/60491/best-android-night-filters/

Harvard Health Publications. (2015, September 2). Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

Hershner, S., & Chervin, R. D. (2014). Causes and consequences of sleepiness among college students. Nature and Science of Sleep, 6, 73–84. doi:10.2147/NSS.S62907

Huffington Post. (2013, June 2). Sleeping tips: 7 ways to get to bed earlier tonight. [Blog]. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/02/sleeping-tips-earlier-bedtime_n_3359469.html

Ku Leuven. (2014). Want better marks? Get a good night’s sleep. Kuleuven.be. Retrieved from https://www.kuleuven.be/english/news/2014/for-better-marks-get-a-good-nights-sleep

Leproult, R., & Van Couter, E. (2010). Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism. Pediatric Neuroendocrinology, 17, 11–21. doi:10.1159/000262524

Lund, H. G., Reider, B. D., Whiting, A. B., & Pritchard, J. R. (2010). Sleep patterns and predictors of disturbed sleep in a large population of college students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(2), 124–132.

Mark, M., Wang, Y., Niiya, M., & Reich, S. (2016, May 12). Sleep debt in student life: Online attention focus, Facebook, and mood. Paper presented at Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, San Jose, California. Retrieved from https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/Home_page/Research_files/Chi16%20Sleep.pdf

Mercola, J. (2016, March 3). What happens in your body when you’re sleep deprived. Mercola.com. Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/03/03/sleep-deprivation-effects.aspx

Milewski, M. D., Skaggs, D. L., Bishop, G. A., Pace, J. L., et al. (2014, March). Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, 34(2), 129–33. doi:10.1097/BPO.0000000000000151

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2012, February 22). Strategies for getting enough sleep. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/strategies

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). How to get rid of sleep debt. Sleep.org. Retrieved from https://sleep.org/articles/get-rid-of-sleep-debt/

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Say goodbye to sleep debt. Sleep.org. Retrieved from https://sleep.org/articles/say-goodbye-sleep-debt/

Potkin, K. T., & Bunney, W. E. (2012, August). Sleep improves memory: The effect of sleep on long term memory in early adolescence. PLOS One, 7(8). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042191

Pritchard, J., Cunningham, B., & Broek, L. (2013). Enhancing college student sleep: Programming strategies that could work on your campus. American College Health Association. Retrieved from https://www.cccstudentmentalhealth.org/docs/misc/EnhancingCollegeStudentSleep-ProgrammingStrategies.pdf

Regestein, Q., Natarajan, V., Pavlova, M., Kawasaki, S., et al. (2010, March 30). Sleep debt and depression in female college students. Psychiatry Research, 176(1), 34–39. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2008.11.006

Waxman, O. (2014, August 29). Napping around: Colleges provide campus snooze rooms. Time. Retrieved from https://time.com/3211964/nap-rooms-at-universities/

Webster, M. (2008, May 6). Can you catch up on lost sleep? Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-can-you-catch-up-on-sleep/

5 tried-and-true money saving tips for students

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Get used to hearing this one—college is expensive. You’re either feeling the effects now (oh hey, double shifts at the library and attending lots of irrelevant events for free pizza), or you’ll be feeling them later, you know, when the loans go into repayment. Either way, we could all use some help keeping our expenses low and our balances high(er). Here are some tried-and-true money-saving tips that can keep college costs in check.

1. Buying new books is a rookie move

Who knew books could be so expensive? Oh, wait—we did. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy into the idea that new is better. In most cases, new is unnecessary. Go for used or even rentals, which you can get from your library for free or online at a lower cost. And don’t count out e-books. These are often more affordable and have the added bonus of being environmentally friendly. Just make sure the e-book includes all the pieces you’ll need, such as a digital access code for supplemental online content.

Before you shell out $500 for a new bio book, check out the best sites for book deals, recommended by students like you:

2. Decorating your space is an interpretive art

That picturesque collection of extra-long sheets and coordinating lampshades is lying to you. You can get just as much use out of a Craigslist desk and Grandma’s throw pillows—and you might even get more friends because of it. The point here is that your ideal room or apartment décor might be better suited for your first paycheck after graduation. That doesn’t mean you can’t make your space feel like home; you just need to be a little flexible doing it.

Shop around on sites like Craigslist and OfferUp (but make sure you’re putting safety before a good deal here because this can get weird—try to meet in a neutral, public location and take a roommate, friend, or bodyguard with you). And don’t discount Facebook Marketplace or other social media groups where students can buy, sell, and trade old stuff. Your school might have one just for students looking for the futon of their dreams. Check it out.

“My first couch was threadbare and hideous, but it was free, and a neutral slipcover made it work in my apartment.”
—Emily, fourth-year undergraduate, University of Windsor, Canada

3. Stick it out for sales

If you can swing it, hold off on buying supplies—sans the essentials, of course—for the first few weeks of the semester. A lot of stores put office, desk, and room supplies on sale after the big rush, and that means you can get a lot more goods for your green. So treat yourself to that extra-plush body pillow; your patience paid off.

4. Move beyond the microwave—or learn to cook with it

Those double XL coffees from the café add up fast, and those meal plans can be expensive. We’re talking $1,000 to $3,500 per semester expensive depending on your school, according to a 2015 NBC News report. Ouch. Many schools offer a range of meal plan options, and choosing a smaller one might save you some money. You still have to eat, though, so shrinking your meal plan goes along with expanding your kitchen skills.

Before we lose you completely, this is an awesome time in your life to learn to make some basics, like pasta, tacos, roasted vegetables, and killer quiches. You don’t even need to make peace with the oven to get going here. Check out our article on five recipes you can make in a microwave to get started.

5. Where you live matters

First year on campus? You’re probably hanging out with some roommates in a res hall. But that might not be the most financially savvy option for all four years. “Depending on where you go to school, living off campus with a few roommates could be less expensive than living in a [residence hall]. At other campuses, [residence halls] are the best value,” says Amy Marty Conrad, director of the CashCourse program, part of the National Endowment for Financial Education that helps students plan how to pay for college.

Bottom line: Do your research. The default option isn’t always the most affordable option, and you owe it to yourself to figure that out. Check with your school too—some colleges require students to live on campus for a certain amount of time. And don’t forget about the live-at-home option. It may not be your fav now, but the financial freedom you’ll have after graduation could get you closer to the life you want. It’s all about those goals.

“Bulletin boards on the school campus always offer different options for housing like renting a room, needing a roommate, [and] cheaper apartments or studios.”
—Alexander, fourth-year undergraduate, College of the Desert, California

6. Your student ID is a magical, money-saving thing

Your student ID is so much more than a close-up of your face on your first day on campus. It’s essentially gold—and it can save you some too. Businesses want your business any way they can get it, and that usually means that they’ll cut you some slack in your student years. But you have to know what it gets you, and you have to be willing to ask. Some retailers might not advertise discounts, and others might only grant them to the brave few willing to ask the question. It’s worth it to do so, even if they say no.

And remember, this applies to way more than just clothes and food. Car insurance, flights back home, and an evening at the museum are all things you can save on with proof of your student status. Use it before you graduate and take a moment of silence for all the money you save. Or don’t.

What can a student discount do for you? Check out some of the deals here.

Bonus tip: Build (and stick to) a budget

While we’re here, be sure you’re sticking to your budget by having one in the first place. It’s OK if you’re new to tracking your finances; in fact, that’s the best place to start. Try a budgeting app like Mint and see where you can make adjustments. Remember, small tweaks can mean big savings. You got this.

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Amy Marty Conrad, director, CashCourse, Denver, Colorado.

Borges, A. (2016, August 23). The 6 best sites for scoring cheap textbooks. Her Campus. Retrieved from https://www.hercampus.com/life/academics/6-best-sites-scoring-cheap-textbooks

Durand, F. (2016, September 14). 11 things we wish we had known about cooking in college. The Kitchn. Retrieved from https://www.thekitchn.com/11-things-we-wish-we-had-known-about-cooking-in-college-208283=

Jhaveri, A. (2016, August 2). 22 healthy college recipes you can make in your dorm room. Greatist. Retrieved from https://greatist.com/eat/healthy-dorm-room-recipes

Krrb. (n.d.). 37 money saving college life hacks. Blog.krrb.com. Retrieved from https://blog.krrb.com/37-money-saving-college-life-hacks/

National Endowment for Financial Education. (n.d.). CashCourse. Retrieved from https://info.cashcourse.org/#

Pack, R. (2016, July 19). 25 essential dorm room cooking hacks. Daily Meal. Retrieved from https://www.thedailymeal.com/25-essential-dorm-room-cooking-hacks

White, M. C. (2015, August 25). School meal plans convenient, costly…and sometimes required. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/freshman-year/school-meal-plans-convenient-costly-sometimes-required-n415676

How you can change the sexual culture on your campus—and why that matters

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We all want campuses without sexual violence, but it can be hard to know where to start. In-the-moment strategies like bystander intervention are powerful tools to make our communities safer, but how can we proactively build cultures in which everyone feels safe and respected?

Sexual violence doesn’t come out of nowhere: It emerges from everyday patterns of disrespect and pressure. In any culture that normalizes low-level disrespect, it’s harder to spot coercion and force. What’s low-level disrespect? It’s when your female classmate is objectified because of the length of her skirt. Or that time your roommate hooked up with someone he wasn’t really into because “that’s what guys are supposed to do.” It’s every time someone makes a rape joke—and every time someone laughs. It contributes to a culture of disrespect, and a culture of disrespect provides camouflage for violence. It functions as “the cultural scaffolding” of sexual assault, wrote Dr. Nicola Gavey, professor of psychology at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, in her book Just Sex? The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape (Routledge, 2005).

In contrast, when we expect respect and mutuality, it’s much easier to spot behaviors that don’t fit that norm. By challenging casual disrespect when we see it—and setting up conversations so that disrespect doesn’t happen in the first place—we can build communities where everyone expects to be treated well.

This means that even small actions can have a big impact in building a safe, supportive campus culture. By ensuring that all of our conversations about romance, sex, and social life are respectful, we can help to dismantle “the cultural scaffolding” of assault. And that starts with you—your friends and your conversations. Here’s how to make sure those convos are building the community you want.

Ask better questions

Two girls walking and talking

Too often, our casual conversations set the expectation that everyone is doing the same things when it comes to romance and sex. If your crew gets together for brunch on Sunday, is everyone expected to share stories about hookups the night before? Conversations like this create “ambient pressure”: a feeling that you must act a certain way in order to fit in. Ambient pressure is a problem in its own right, and also makes interpersonal pressure easier by suggesting that people’s desires aren’t important.

If your friends regularly have conversations like this, you can help shift them in a more positive direction. Start by asking better questions.

Two-column, four-row chart displaying alternative options for discussing evening plans with friends. Left column includes four questions students might ask in casual conversations with friends labeled “instead of this.” Right column includes four different ways to ask those questions that make less assumptions labeled “try this.” Row 1: Instead of “Did you hook up?” Try “How was your night?” Row 2: Instead of “How far did you get?” Try “Did you enjoy hanging out with her?” Row 3: Instead of “Are you going out tonight?” Try “What are your plans later?” Row 4: Instead of “Is he hot?” Try “What do you like about him?”

These questions reduce ambient pressure by removing some of the assumptions about what people are doing and how they’re talking about it. Bonus points for making your conversations more interesting and less rom com.   

Tell different stories

Try sharing stories of times when things went well in unexpected or nontraditional ways, like when you met someone at a party and ended the night talking Shakespeare sonnets and downing pizza instead of hooking up. There are a number of dangerous myths about campus sexual culture, such as the false belief that everyone wants to be having more sex than they’re currently having, that no one wants to get into anything serious because everyone is looking for hookups, that “casual” sexual encounters can’t be intimate, and so on.

Sharing diverse experiences and stories is a powerful way of disrupting these myths and offering more positive alternatives. If you had a great Saturday night binge-watching House of Cards with your roommate, then say so!

Positive change involves people inspiring each other—and that starts with telling different stories. In a study, college students who reported drinking heavily received info on how much their peers were actually drinking, and spoiler alert, it was less than they thought. Six weeks later, the heavy drinkers were consuming less alcohol and drinking less often, according to The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2000). This is an example of how social norms work: Expectations about how we should act actually affect how we do act. Once we realize that others are doing things differently, we adjust ourselves accordingly. This can work in your favor when it comes to convos about hookups: By demonstrating that there are many positive, respectful ways to be social, you can challenge social norms that give rise to pressure.

Figure out what matters to you—and live it

Several hands raised up together

In order to build a culture that reflects your values, you first need to figure out what those are. “Communities feel more connected and supportive when the people in them have a clear idea of what they want their culture to be like and are actively working toward that ideal,” wrote Chip Heath of Stanford University and Dan Heath of Duke University in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Broadway Business, 2010), which examines individual, organizational, and social transformations.

Ask your communities (i.e., the clubs you’re in, the groups you belong to, and the friends you spend your time with) what they see as their shared goals. This doesn’t have to be scary or even formal; having an awesome group of people to lean on is a legit goal. When we’re all focused on a positive value—like genuine friendship, interdependence, or mutual trust—it’s easier to ensure that everyone is treated well. “Identifying shared community values is a critical step in building safe, supportive communities in which everyone can thrive,” says Dr. Melanie Boyd, assistant dean of student affairs and lecturer in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Yale University in Connecticut.

Think about what you want from your interactions

It also helps to think about what you want from any given interaction, whether it’s meeting up with a couple of friends at your place or hosting a party. When we’re actively thinking about what we want out of our social events, we can ensure that they reflect and support what matters to us.

  • Why are you hosting this event or going to this hangout? What do you want from it?
  • What are you hoping to get out of it? What are you hoping others will get out of it? Do you want to meet new friends, to relax with a small group, or to try something new?
  • What vibe do you want? Intimate, classy, chill, or something else?
  • Now that the big stuff is sorted, how will you make sure your goals are met? Think about everything from the theme to the space, music, food and drinks, invites, etc.
  • What options are there? What choices do you or others have about what to wear, drink, and do?

By mindfully planning and attending events that reflect our values, we can create and support spaces without ambient pressure, and where interpersonal pressure stands out. Well-planned events with lots of options also mean more fun for the people coming and less stress for the people planning. That’s a win.

The power of small change

It all comes down to this—a culture in which respect is the norm is our most effective protection against sexual assault. And respect starts small. By making subtle changes to our everyday conversations and in our everyday interactions, we can work together to build a community where everyone can thrive. So let’s do that.

[school_resource sh101resources=’no’ category=’mobileapp,counselingservices, healthservices, wellnesspromotion, titleix, suicideprevention, residentlife, campusministry, studentservices, studentlife, studentlife, titleix’] Get help or find out more

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard: Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Broadway Business, 2010

Sexual empowerment webinars & info: Amy Jo Goddard

What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety: Jaclyn Friedman
Seal Press, 2011

Step Up! intervention program: University of Arizona

Communication and Consent Educators program: Yale University

Find local services and other resources: NotAlone.gov


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Article sources

Melanie Boyd, PhD, assistant dean of student affairs; lecturer in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, Yale University, Connecticut.

Armstrong, E. A., Hamilton, L., & England, P. (2010). Is hooking up bad for young women? Contexts, 9(3), 22–27.

Borsari, B., & Carey, K. B. (2000). Effects of a brief motivational intervention with college student drinkers. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(4), 728–733.

Carmody, M. (2005). Ethical erotics: Reconceptualizing anti-rape education. Sexualities, 8(4), 465–480.

Gavey, N. (2005). Just Sex? The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape. London and New York: Routledge.

Gavey, N., & Senn, C. Y. (2014). Sexuality and sexual violence. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.) APA Handbook on Sexuality and Psychology: Vol. 1. Person-Based Approaches (pp. 339–382). Washington, DC: APA Press.

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Your good-roomie guide: How to keep the peace

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Dirty coffee mugs are lodged in the windowsill, clothes litter the floor, and the ice cream you were planning to dig into after class is gone—again. Either someone broke into your space or you have a roommate, am I right?

Whether your life in your shared space is smooth and easy, filled with an occasional bit of trouble, or a near-daily battle of “this is not really happening,” we could all benefit from some tips on how to make (and keep) the peace with the people we live with. If you fall into that last category, you’re not alone. About half of all first-year college students struggle with roommate issues frequently or occasionally, according to 2009 research from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. And that’s significant—a stressful home situation can affect you in real ways.

  • How you do in class: Roommate issues are more likely to prevent you from doing your best academic work than issues with drinking or homesickness, according to the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment (Fall 2016).
  • How you feel: Your connection with your roommate helps shape your mental well-being and your ability to adjust at college, according to research published in 2014 in Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. College students who reported frequent roommate issues had higher stress levels than those who peacefully shared their spaces, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of American College Health. There’s also data showing that poor relationship dynamics can trigger an uptick in anxiety and depression, says Dr. Amy Canevello, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a researcher on roommate relationships.

Some of the most common complaints among roommates are things we’ve all had to deal with at some point. OK, they’re also probably things we have all done at some point, including shirking basic responsibilities (like cleaning those crusty coffee mugs), snagging snacks, and showing a lack of respect for the space and the other person in it (like that time your girlfriend moved in for three weeks). Sound familiar?

So, rather than brushing things under the (unswept) rug, how can you set things up so you both feel comfortable bringing up what’s bugging you?

Dirt being swept under a rug

Start it off the right way

Yes, there is a right way. It includes making and sticking with a plan from day one. Here’s how:

1. Get together to discuss the details

“Research in many contexts tells us that people will be more likely to abide by rules that they themselves develop,” says Dr. Linda Stamato, co-director of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. So get together and develop them. Make sure everyone chimes in on what they want for the space and agrees on the details, including what happens when rules turn into loose suggestions. Because they will.

2. Put it on paper…or Google drive

Living on campus? Your school might require that you sign a roommate agreement. Living in an apartment off campus? Yeah, you’re not off the hook either. Don’t shrug off the details here. Be clear about your expectations from the get-go. “You may think it’s obvious to clean a dish after you use it, and someone else may not. They may think it’s normal to leave a pile of dirty clothes in the corner, and someone else may find that disgusting. We are all human, so we probably will fall short on a few things once in a while, but it’s good to know that there is a standard set by each of you [that] can keep you accountable,” says Daniella C., a third-year graduate student at Emory University in Georgia and a former resident advisor.

3. Commit to communicate

Real talk: If you can figure out how to break down the awkward and talk about the stuff that bugs you early on, you’re setting yourself up for a roommate situation that works. Struggle with speaking up? Try jotting it down. “It could be helpful to make a list of your concerns that can be shared with a roommate,” says Dr. Michelle Jefferson, campus dean of students at Douglass Residential College at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Just be sure to have a plan for dealing with the concerns in person once they’ve been brought up.

Three young women chatting in lounge area

What to do when stuff goes down

You nailed down the details, made the agreement, spoke up when things were on your mind—and there’s still a problem. We’ve all been there. So now what?

First, bring it up as quickly as possible. If you don’t talk about it, your frustration will fester, and that’s a loss for everyone. Here are some ways to approach it:

Keep blame out of it

Launching into a gripe session about everything your roommate has ever done wrong means they’ll probably tune you out ASAP. You’ll do better by framing a problem as something to solve together—start off by introducing the issue using “I” statements. When you start talking solutions, use “we” rather than “you.” Feeling that everyone is responsible for improving the relationship can help all of you be more responsive, Dr. Canevello says.

Listen better

It seems so much easier than it actually is. Active listening means concentrating on and processing what someone is saying without simultaneously prepping your comeback. Take time to understand their words rather than blurting out the response that you spent the last five minutes crafting, Dr. Canevello says. And remember that most of us have good intentions. Just because your roommate is falling short on dish duty doesn’t mean they’re trying to intentionally set you off. We’re all doing the best we can, and it helps to keep that in mind when you hear them out.

Aim to understand

We overestimate our own contributions to keeping our living space clean (and peaceful) and simultaneously underestimate what our roommates do, according to behavioral economist Dr. Dan Ariely. And that can lead to some not-so-good feelings about the people you’re living with. Dr. Ariely explains that because we’re intimately familiar with the details of our own tasks (think about the smell of the moldy cheese you pulled out of the refrigerator drawer), we minimize the things that others do. And then we resent them for it. “The particulars of our own chores are clear to us, but we tend to view our partners’ labors only in terms of the outcomes. We discount their contributions because we understand them only superficially,” Dr. Ariely told the Wall Street Journal.

How can you fix it? Either change up your chores every now and then so you get acquainted with the details of their tasks or simply ask your roommates to share the gruesome details of their chores—step-by-step. Once you hear all about it, you may view them in a whole new light.

Come at it with compassion

OK, we’re not all going to love our roommates; it’s just life. But you can make a conscious choice to care about their well-being—and that can make a big difference in how you interact. “It changes how you construe problems and how you approach them,” Dr. Canevello says.

Roommates who had “compassionate goals,” or goals related to others’ well-being and happiness, were less stressed—and they gave and received greater support—than those whose goals focused on themselves, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2010).

Three young men hanging out on staircase

What to do when it’s not getting better

Sometimes you just can’t solve this stuff on your own, and that’s where your RAs, counselors, staff, faculty, and others on your team come in. Reach out to them; they’re there for you, and they know how to help. Here’s what that might look like:

A third-party mediation situation

This could be an RA, a fellow student, a staff member, your dog. (Probably not that last one, though.) An unbiased third party can listen to problems and help construct resolutions. “Using mediators allows students to surface issues that they may be uncomfortable talking about directly with the person(s) with whom they are in conflict,” Stamato says.

“Roommate issues were one of the most common issues I dealt with while I was an RA,” says Samantha E., a fourth-year student at the University of North Dakota. “Almost all of my residents who ever came to me about these types of issues were able to resolve them and form a better relationship by talking it out.”

Revisit your roommate contract

Remember that? Surprise—it’s actually helpful. If yours included things such as watch Game of Thrones every night while devouring pizza, you might want to make some changes to address the stuff that keeps coming up. Talk to your RA, other staff members, or another third-party mediator about how to make it work this time around, and agree to reference it if issues come up in the future.

Know when it’s time to bow out”

Sometimes, a living situation just can’t be resolved, and you need to find new accommodations. Live on campus? Talk to your RA or resident life office about how to amicably make the switch so that everyone can live happily ever after—just not together. Live elsewhere? Read through the terms of your lease and the consequences of breaking it. You may be able to sublet your room or pay a nominal fee, both of which can be a worthy exchange for peace of mind.

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Article sources

Amy Canevello, PhD, assistant professor, department of psychological sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Michelle Jefferson, PhD, campus dean of students, Douglass Residential College, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Linda Stamato, PhD, co-director, the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

American College Health Association. (2016). American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary, Spring 2016. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association.

Ariely, D. (2017, April 12). When chores go unappreciated. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-chores-go-unappreciated-1492017015

Crocker, J., Canevello, A., & Breines, J. G. (2010). Interpersonal goals and change in anxiety and dysphoria in first-semester college students. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(6), 1009–1024. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/44642305_Interpersonal_Goals_and_Change_in_Anxiety_and_Dysphoria_in_First-Semester_College_Students

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