Penn State is home to countless overachieving and motivated students, but prioritizing mental health amid their activities and school work can become challenging with that level of commitment.
Even with Amanda Mohommad’s abnormal amount of credits and extracurriculars, she said she finds time to balance work with her personal life.
“I thrive when I have a lot to do,” Mohommad (junior-global and international studies, labor and human resources, and Spanish) said. “I’ve gotten used to it over time, but I think it's also just in my nature to never sit still for too long.”
Among other opportunities, Mohommad is a Lion Ambassador, PIRE Research Fellow, Ronald E. McNair Scholar and co-director of Students Teaching Students, a program founded in 2019 to encourage undergraduate students to teach niche courses to fellow students.
Additionally, she works downtown at a part-time job — around 15 hours each week — and with the 24 credits she is taking during the fall semester, one might wonder how she gets it all done.
“I reflect quite a bit on my involvement and regularly ask myself why it is that I am involved in one thing or the other,” Mohommad said. “If I continue to feel passionate about it, and I can truthfully admit that to myself, I know I will be able to make it work.”
Mohommad said after her first year on campus, she learned to rely on Google Calendar and a day planner to schedule every single part of her day.
“I think one of the reasons I’m not going crazy 24/7 is because I have good time management,” Mohommad said. “I can hyperfocus and get it all done when I need to.”
While Mohommad admitted she does have her moments where she can feel a bit overwhelmed, she said she “would not want it any other way.”
Citing school as her number one priority, Mohommad said she will never shy away from saying no if and when she needs a break.
“I try to rely on my friends as that source of fun in my day,” Mohommad said. “To have an outlet to get everything out to is really important. I can not stress enough how necessary it is to take time off when you feel overwhelmed or not present enough.”
Najee Rodriguez serves as the University Park Undergraduate Associaion’s vice president, a role that’s “just as fulfilling as it is a full-time job” but also can be seen on campus as part of Lion Ambassadors and the Presidential Leadership Academy.
“Obviously, you are in college to get your education,” Rodriguez (junior-international politics and history) said. “But along the way, my biggest advice is to get involved, find a community bigger than yourself and take advantage of those opportunities.”
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Rodriguez, an out-of-state student from Florida, said he did not know anyone prior to arriving on campus and signed up for as much as he could in order to meet people.
“I think where I got it wrong was trying to do too much without worrying about the consequences that that could have on my [mental health],” Rodriguez said. “You can’t successfully give to others if you don’t give to yourself first.”
Rodriguez said the strain that comes with being super involved did take a toll, and he was referred to a psychiatrist and soon after put on medications.
“I learned the hard way,” Rodriguez said. “Mental health must be the number one priority. Without focusing on our wellbeing, it’s not sustainable to keep going.”
But with a good balance, campus involvement provides important benefits as well, according to Rodriguez.
“To get into a routine and be able to develop professionally while still in college is an amazing opportunity we have at Penn State,” Rodriguez said. “It would be a shame not to take advantage of it.”
Other students like Madison Miller said prioritizing mental health is one of the most important ways to prevent burnout as the fall semester continues.
“Before school began, I originally wanted to have an easier semester,” Miller (sophomore-broadcast journalism) said. “Even though it ended up being just the opposite, I think it also energizes me to make the most out of all the things I get to do.”
Miller said she is working two internships this semester — one with a talent agency in Los Angeles and another as a digital content intern for Penn State Athletics, covering men’s basketball.
“I have multiple days a week where I have to be working 10 hours straight,” Miller said. “It’s a lot, but it all comes down to how I divide my time up.”
Miller said she always makes sure to give herself time to relax during the day.
“Getting work done efficiently by setting a clock or writing a checklist are my secrets to success,” Miller said. “Nevertheless, I will always call it quits around midnight no matter what because I need my sleep to function.”
Miller said if people spent even half the time they spend on their devices on something more productive, they could become more involved.
But compared to last year’s virtual format for both class and extracurriculars, Miller said it has taken time to adjust to the changes and extra time needed to get from place to place.
Miller, who is also part of Penn State Network Television and Centre News Digest, an initiative meant to highlight community news in the Centre County area, said she’s had to make some sacrifices.
“A good example was a leadership position I had in a club I was a part of this semester,” Miller said. “I felt I could not mentally give it my all, so I stepped down and put my mental sanity first.”
Miller said evolving the trust within herself to make those kinds of decisions has come as she has matured. But Miller isn’t slowing down any time soon, she said.
She co-founded a new club this semester called the Nittany Lion Red Carpet Network, an entertainment broadcast club and the first of its kind on the University Park campus.
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Miller said the relationships, whether with family or professors, are all part of a support system that is needed to balance out all of the “crazy” in her life.
“It can be isolating to think you are alone in these struggles,” Miller said. “College is one of the hardest parts of your life, and sometimes, it can feel like you have no one else to relate to.”
Miller said leaning on upperclassmen and finding students who have been in her position before, whether that be having an internship during the semester, overloading on credits or who have pursued the same clubs as she does are all techniques that help her.
Among many of her roles on campus, Maryah Burney is a World In Conversation dialogue facilitator, social action co-chair and historian of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Bellisario College of Communications Fellow and university relations co-director for the Multicultural Association of Schreyers Scholars.
“I think my drive comes from high school and being really involved then,” Burney (junior-digital and print journalism) said. “But as I’ve matured, I have had to learn it is okay to drop things.”
Burney said in the past, she was not able to have hard boundaries when it came to her involvement and ended up “ruining” her mental health during that time period.
“When my brother passed away, it was a wake up call,” Burney said. “I was emotionally unwell, and that was pouring into other parts of my life.”
Burney described therapy, breaks and “finding a good balance” between her social and academic life as three of the most important revelations of her college experience thus far.
“I also walk a couple miles every day, which is one of the biggest stress relievers,” Burney said. “I always remind myself that clubs can always continue without me. It’s all about finding a happy medium.”
Burney said surrounding herself with friends and fellow students who have common goals and motivation has inspired her to put things into perspective.
Stepping into a new role this semester, Burney also teaches AFAM 297: Anti-Black Racism in America through the Students Teaching Students program.
“I treat it like another class,” Burney said. “Just one that’s a little more intensive than usual.”
Even with the added work that comes with teaching, Burney said the semester has been off to a good start.
“I’m not super religious, but my grandma always says, ‘God gives you what you can handle,’” Burney said. “If I miss something, I’ve matured in knowing it's not the end of the world. I take it day by day, but now, at least I know my emotions are valid.”
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