I feel hopelessly inferior to those around me as I struggle with school

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a female university student in my 20s and I feel inferior when I compare myself to others.

I’ve been exhausted from taking both in-person and online classes amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. While my parents tell me that graduating from university is enough to focus on now, I know I will have to get a job.

Fellow students around me are already talking about finding employment or doing internships, which is something that I will have to do, too. But when I see people gathered at a train station on their way home from work, I sometimes cry.

Also, I have a chronic illness that prevents me from working long hours. In the past, I attended a prep school for prospective public service workers, but that didn’t work out so well because I cried too easily and went to pieces.

I often get sick due to stress, which sometimes even drives me to the point where I eat and eat just to cope.

When it comes to having fun with friends, I tend to be too intense and my relationships with people inevitably fail.

I’m receiving counseling at my university, but these days, living is something I don’t enjoy.

What should I do?

—K, Hyogo Prefecture

Dear Ms. K:

I think it’s very important to keep calm when it is difficult to stay in good condition because of your chronic illness. You said that comparing yourself to others makes you feel bad, but that happens to everyone. People often find themselves comparing themselves to others, but that only brings them down.

There is a path that can lead you out of this negative spiral of comparison and depression. You should do something that is possible for you to focus on, and you shouldn’t do it with the aim of receiving praise from others.

During my youth, I immersed myself in researching things that held my interest when I felt bad after someone compared me to others. After reading research papers and books, I was no longer using up my energy on those types of comparisons.

In such times, I immersed myself not in medicine, but in sociology and communications, which were not my specialty. By spending time concentrating on something I didn’t know much about and in fields outside of my specialty, I was able to feel, “All right, now this satisfies me.”

Having fun in life can be something that doesn’t happen often. So, if you think, “Hey, this is fine,” instead of “fun,” warmth and happiness might pay you a visit.

If you can refocus your mind, you might be able to forget about whether you are winning or losing when you compare yourself to those around you.

— Junko Umihara, psychiatrist