Don’t get me wrong: I adore hanging out with my friends and being in the thick of the bustling metropolis that is Penn State’s University Park campus. Surfing through waves of students gives me life, and the incredible atmosphere of downtown on a weekend is unparalleled.
But sometimes, a little alone time is just what my anxious, racing brain needs to reset. I struggle a lot with anxiety and depression, and being around people for prolonged periods of time — even the people I love — can really wear down my ability to function properly.
That’s why I jumped on the opportunity to remain in State College over the summer — a State College without the constant buzz of social interaction and stressful reminders of encroaching scholastic deadlines. (The escape from the uncomfortable feeling of family members breathing down my neck every few minutes was also alluring.)
The inevitability of boredom has become a daily predicament, however. I, an extremely extroverted introvert, can’t simply sit at home and do nothing for hours on end — I’d go even more insane than I already am.
So what have I done this summer to preoccupy myself and ensure my brain doesn’t rot while I exist alone in my apartment?
Books, books and more books
Books have been my faithful companions since I learned to read. It doesn’t matter what kind they are — hard cover, paperback or even digital — the solace I find in the written word is unlike any other warmth in life.
When I read, it’s as if the characters step out of the pages and become real, immortal and ever-present companions who don’t share the flaws of the tangible human race.
The characters in a book can be anything: heroes, villains, mythical or realistic, but more than anything else, they are my best friends. I’m never lonely or bored as long as I have my fictional besties to guide me on an adventure or teach me the things that truly matter in life.
But the appeal of books isn’t just the characters — I’m a sucker for a good, deep and rich plot line, and there’s no better place to find such an artform than in a book.
Take, for instance, the well-read classic “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. Someone reading the work without the time to really appreciate its depth might think it’s simply the tale of a captain and his whaling crew, but every single character has a story to tell, even the very whale the “main” characters villainize and seek to destroy.
Recently, my reading journey has taken me back some to my childhood favorites: the “Inheritance Cycle” by Christopher Paolini and the entire “Percy Jackson” franchise by Rick Riordan. “Harry Potter” has also been a constantly recurring favorite. (But don’t even get me started on my opinions about J.K. Rowling.)
I find that no matter what I read — whether it be an old favorite or even something new — every page has the intended effect: the perfect preoccupation.
If a reader takes the time to truly appreciate a work, the endless number of interpretations, themes and stories it has to tell could cure boredom for eons.
“Netflix or Hulu? Baby, you choose”
Much like books, movies, TV shows or documentaries found on popular streaming platforms like Neftlix, Hulu or Disney+ have the profound ability to transport me from reality and allow me to visit other worlds.
And there are two distinctive abilities the big screen possesses that books don’t.
Engaging, eye-catching motion pictures aren’t exactly feasible with only a page and some ink. While it is possible to create a flipbook-style publication, these are often difficult to produce and don’t deliver the same effect as a lifelike and realistic moving image.
There are some digital copies of books on the market with GIFs inserted amid the text, but these are few and far between and also incompatible with most e-book readers, like Kindles or Nooks.
Books are also unable to replicate the realistic sounds in a given scene. Sure, a reader can imagine them, but that simply isn’t the same as experiencing them.
Take, for instance, the 2004 historical epic “Troy,” directed and produced by Wolfgang Petersen. Starring Brad Pitt and several other famous actors from the era, the movie was a smash success and was even shown in one of my high school English classes as we studied Ancient Greek literature.
Viewing an intense battle scene in “Troy” wouldn’t be the same without the physical clang of the swords and shouting of the warriors. And when these sound effects are paired with music to set the mood, the experience is almost so real you might actually feel what the warriors do — all the fear and anxiety, the rush of adrenaline, the aching pain of death and loss.
It is this that allots streaming platforms such an unprecedented amount of entertainment potential. Being immersed in the full, two-dimensional experience, a streaming platform can quite literally block out the outside world.
When watching something on a streaming platform, I can go without the daily struggle of being a college student, of feeling like every fiber of my mentality is being stretched across the universe from responsibilities and obligations galore.
And books aren’t the only place I search for rich, detailed plotlines and deep, intricately constructed characters. Streaming platforms offer a multitude of well-written, immersive screenplays that can tell a story just as effectively, if not — dare I say — more effectively than the generic written word.
Taking the time to scroll through the endless list of movies, TV shows or documentaries on Netflix or the plethora of reality TV shows on Hulu can be a reward in itself. Not only can viewers broaden their horizons and open their eyes to many of the various cultures the world has to offer, but they just might also find a new obsession that can open a whole new set of doors in life.
“Play that funky music, white boy”
There is not a concept in the universe that will ever have as profound an impact on my physical and mental well-being as music. A simple melody can make me forget about all the troubles in the world — stress, obligations and every expectation I have of myself (or those my anxiety tells me others have of me).
The imagery music is capable of producing is unmatched in beauty, vibrance and any other measure of quality known to mankind. No other form of art can affect emotions or trigger memories the way music can.
Over the course of just three or four minutes, a single song can make listeners giddy with joy, sob with despair or as calm and relaxed as a sailboat drifting softly on a serene lake. It could also take listeners from the happiest moment of their lives to the saddest and even to the angriest, all effortlessly and seemingly in the blink of an eye.
Listening to music is more than just a hobby for me — it’s a lifestyle, a mental necessity akin to the most powerful drug in the world. Just as every living being needs water to survive, so does my mind need music.
There is never a day that passes where music is not present in my life. It’s always with me from the time I wake up in the morning, through every waking hour, to the time I go to sleep at night.
Music exists both inside me and out. Having a quiet mind, especially one without music on a constant shuffle, is an alien feeling to me, and so is a day I can’t listen to music in some capacity.
I find the genres of music I prefer vary from day to day, as do the artists I listen to. Whether it’s pop or indie or hip-hop, or whether I’m in the mood for old favorites (like every Taylor Swift song in existence) or new obsessions (like Dua Lipa), there is never a shortage of music to listen to.
Adding music to a daily routine can be incredibly enriching, and pausing to absorb a song’s meaning can be one of the most enlightening feelings.
In immersing myself in a book, a movie or TV show or an album, my worldly obligations and problems fall away, as do all my worries and cares. All there is in the depth of the moment is what I’m reading, watching or listening to.
Each form of entertainment saves me from the inevitability of interacting with a wide array of people constantly — many from whom I could use a break. There is no freer feeling than a temporary indifference to everyone’s problems and all worldly responsibilities.
Now that sounds pretty shallow, mean and entitled, right?
It doesn’t necessarily need to be perceived that way. I’ve found, over the years, especially since I began to struggle with mental health issues, that certain behaviors neurotypical people find rude or uncomely aren’t enacted with negative intentions — nor should they be perceived as negative themselves.
Sometimes, a small break can make every difference in productivity, well-being and relationships with others.
A reset of the mind often helps with focus. Too many worries and distractions can prevent an individual from accomplishing a task or from producing quality work.
Physically, a break can reduce stress and adrenaline levels, which has health benefits beyond what most people realize. Too much of either can be incredibly unhealthy for the heart, which could, at the extremes, result in hospitalization or even death.
And breaks can be exceptionally healthy for a relationship, allowing each party to take a breath and reset before starting again on a fresh page. Such a pause can often save a relationship altogether.
Needless to say, taking care of yourself before focusing on activities, tasks or relationships that affect others can improve performance in every area and make both you and those around you happier. That’s why I plan to make the most of every moment of my peaceful, mostly solitary summer — I know it’s what’s best for me right now, and I know it will pay off down the road.