Everyone has heard the "kids are stressed nowadays" cries from doctors, scientists, teachers, and just about anyone else who grew up a few generations before the millennials. These people are the ones who have watched teenagers pull all-nighters for high school chem tests and cry when they did not get a perfect score on their midterm, have regular panic attacks over the SATs and push their bodies to keep going, keep going, keep going despite it's cry for rest.
I consider one of the scariest days of my life to be September 25, 2016. I mean I've had some scary things happen to me: an emergency appendectomy, the chicken pox twice, car accidents, failing a test, being rejected and so many other things that make your stomach twist in a knot and cause your heart to race and your palms to sweat.
As I've written about before, I am serving as the COO of my sorority's chapter. Though it has been filled with trials and triumphs, failures and successes, hair pulling and tears of anger, happiness, and hurt, I also accepted this position alongside some of my closest friends. One of them being the CEO of our chapter.
We're in college. We're stressed, right? We pull all-nighters and drink a lot of coffee and energy drinks. Sometimes we're too busy to eat. We have panic attacks and mental breakdowns. That's normal, right? Or is it? Is this supposed to be happening? Am I supposed to be calling my mom at 2am while hysterically crying, screaming "I can't take this anymore!" Is that normal? Is it normal for my heart to start racing every morning I wake up and think about my to-do list that is always a mile long? Is it normal for my blood to boil when I get a 90 on a test because I could have, I should have, done better?
Stress is normal. It's a natural feeling to have; but is it normal to be experiencing this much stress? To have this much stress put on us at the young and ripe age of 20? (Even before that, if you want to talk about high school and my first years of college). I've pulled all-nighters with my sorority's CEO- who happens to be a close friend- I've handed her coffee late at night because we had to keep studying for this exam, I've been right next to her almost falling asleep in meetings. But we kept going and we keep going, we keep pushing to meet this unrealistic expectation to be the perfect student, to stand out amongst the millions of other students that will be graduating and fighting for few job openings, to be better, better, better than you could possibly imagine.
Stress is normal. To an extent. The stress high school and college students are feeling in today's society is not normal. That became very apparent on September 25, 2016, when one of my best friends - the same friend I pulled all-nighters with, given coffee to late at night, kept from falling asleep in meetings, and served alongside with for our sorority- was rushed to the hospital because it was thought she was having a heart attack.
My 20 year old, active, enthusiastic, bossy, confident, hardcore friend was standing in front of me breaking down, her resting heart rate skyrocketing to an ungodly level. Thankfully, other women in my sorority's chapter were there- nursing majors and women with EMS training that knew just what to do (because I sure as hell did not) and took her to the hospital.
Tests were run and she was given the okay. She was discharged and told to rest. She took some sassy pictures in her hospital robe and even got some non-stick socks out of the visit. I am thankful for the quick and fast actions of my sisters and that the Lord was on my friend's side that day.
However, I sit in my seat and think back to that moment, that day, that feeling in my stomach that this was actually happening. This wasn't a dream. This was real and it was happening and this could end badly, very badly. I'm so grateful that it did not, that she is okay. But still, I am left with the thought: it happened.
It happened. And it could have been any single college student I know, at the University of Louisville, on any campus in America. It could have been any of us who put too much on our plate, choose studying over sleep because we have to get an A, chug caffeine to make it to every single meeting on our calendars, study notecards on meal breaks at work because we have to pay our bills but we also have to pass that class, put down whatever we are doing to help our friend having a scheduled mental breakdown, and the list goes on and on and on. It could have been me this past Sunday. It could have been my little brother. It could have been any one of my instagram followers. It could have been- and it was- one of my best friends.
What happened to my friend was stress-induced. Isn't it outrageous that the stress placed on an average college student at a public university in the United States of America, could cause a potential heart attack?
To me, it's insane to think. It makes me sick to think about. It makes me realize how hard we push ourselves, how hard society pushes us, how unrealistic the expectations and standards we are trying to meet actually are.
Maybe we need to change society. Maybe we need to adjust our school systems. Maybe we need to fix our perceptions on expectations of young adults. I don't know. All I know is I want this feeling of anxiety and never ending to-do lists to stop. I want things like what happened this past Sunday never to happen again because it shouldn't have happened in the first place. But I don't know how to get us there and I know a single person cannot do it individually. It needs to be a societal change.
I don't have an answer. I don't know how to fix this. I wish I did. But I am sitting here, typing on my computer, thinking about everything I need to do this week before I leave for Fall Break this weekend (which will be spent applying for scholarships, studying for tests, and working on my senior honors thesis) and my heart starts to race even though I'm exhausted and I know I will pour another cup of coffee because the fear of falling behind, getting a B, not being good enough, not meeting the expectations are far too intense for me to 'take a chill pill' or even a break.