I’m convinced that everyone had a weird, bad habit in ninth grade. For some of us, it was picking at your acne or scratching at your hand. For others, it was self-harm or skipping dinner. Whatever our habit was, we were all just trying to cope with the sudden change in our lives after entering high school. Now, as a freshman in college, I’m finding myself going back to those old, weird, bad habits.
Some of these habits aren’t the greatest, but also aren’t terrible. I’m not showering as often as I’d like to. In the past, I usually washed my hair every other day. Now, unless it’s really hot or I just went to the rec, I go days without showering. Trust me — I hate it. I’d love to feel clean everyday and not have to wear a hat; I’m just not doing it. I can make excuses: the shower is far away from my room and not very private, I don’t have time to be leisurely, I can’t binge YouTube videos in the shower. But none of these feelings are the reason my hair’s so greasy. It’s an old bad habit, and since I’m on my own, it’s decided to come back out.
Some of my habits are worse and more serious than a lack of cleanliness. At the beginning of high school, I developed an eating disorder. I’ve recovered and have been eating healthily since junior year, but I feel those urges coming back. I don’t want to fall back into that. That eating disorder made my life hell, and I’m grateful I got help with it before needing to be hospitalized. Yet, here I am, obsessing over my freshman-15 and the calories in the dining hall food. I could make excuses here, too. I could lie and say I’m just worried about my health or taking advantage of the gym provided to me on campus, but I know that’s not the truth. This is one of my old, bad habits.
I believe my past routines are coming back for a few reasons. For one, my parents aren’t here. I lived under their roof and their rules for 18 years, and, all of the sudden, I’m on my own. They can’t make me eat dinner, and they can’t tell me to take a shower. Secondly, these behaviors, while not healthy or productive, are grounding. They bring me back to a similar time when I was at a new school and succeeded.
The brain likes to repeat effective behaviors and create patterns. Mine discovered that these behaviors were effective in the stressful environment of ninth grade, so maybe they’ll be effective here. After all, I did survive high school. Maybe my brain thinks the lack of hygiene and poor eating habits is why. I have another theory, though. Most of what I remember about ninth grade is related to these behaviors. I couldn’t tell you anything about my algebra class, but I could tell you the low-calorie lunch I had every day. I don’t remember many of the clothes I wore, but I remember tying my hair back to make it look cleaner than it was. I think my brain remembered these behaviors as being pivotal and effective simply because it doesn’t remember much else. It sees these behaviors as pillars I stood on in ninth grade.
The biggest problem is these behaviors aren’t effective; they’re damaging. Not showering did nothing for me other than give me ten extra minutes to do homework at night. It brought down my self-esteem and discouraged me from talking to new people. Not eating actively destroyed my mind and body. I couldn’t pay attention in class because I was starving, obsessing over what was in my lunch or watching videos of people making food as if I would absorb the flavor through my screen. Thank God I wasn’t in a gym class at the time, because my physical health was so poor, I probably would have failed it.
So, how do we stop these behaviors? We need to replace them with real, effective behaviors. The habits you create now could be the habits your brain comes back to the next time it’s stressed.
So, start going on early-morning walks. Start having solo dance parties in your room when your roommate’s gone. Start taking a little time to sit down and watch the squirrels. If you develop these positive habits now, maybe in the future your mind won’t go to the old, bad ones. Your brain is trying to help you; it just needs you to push it in the right direction.