How are our bodies so good at stockpiling stress during the academic year? How is it possible for us to wear ourselves down so much?
I know each and every one of us can relate to feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork, responsibilities, a social life, and life in general. It’s terrifying how long we can run our bodies down until it responds to the stress in the form of a compromised immune system, emotional response, or mental capacity.
I know that it’s a lot easier to recognize when your peers or friends are taking on “too much” or spreading themselves out too thin than it is to admit to yourself that you’re tiring yourself out, but remember how important it is that you are aware of how your body is feeling too. I know for sure that I am not alone when I say that I let things get too far in terms of stressing out before I actually decide to actively take a “mental health day off” from everything and ACTUALLY relax – no staring at electronics for more than 2 hours at a time, actually going outside for a walk, or allotting time to be around people. It can be really hard to admit that you need a break, since academic institutions always demand that we be “on” all the time, ready to work into the late hours of the night even if the product isn’t something we’re proud of. I know the feeling, and I hear you.
I wanted to write this early on in the semester, firstly because I think more people will be inclined to read it, as midterm season has not approached yet, and secondly because I think it’s important to at least bring up these ideas earlier on with the hopes of these practices being carried out throughout the academic months. In my freshman year, I let myself bottle up my emotions, I felt like I was not managing my time well even though I was always on top of my assignments, and everything felt very overwhelming. I was constantly feeling trapped – I tried to get off campus as much as possible just to physically separate myself from the stress that perpetually surrounded me.
Gradually, though, I started forming communities with people in my classes where I interacted closely with upperclassmen. This was a really great thing for me because I’ve always best learned from others, and I especially enjoy hearing about people’s personal experiences (because, after all, those have the most validity, right? Isn’t the best way to learn being able to relate to something?) and it was great to hear about how upperclassmen slowly learned to navigate being on a college campus, and how to deal with all the extra burdens that may come with being a student.
I started to gain more confidence in reaching out to people when I needed help, and that began with just asking people to study in the same room together, even if we weren’t talking. Just making sure I had people around me when I was feeling a little overwhelmed reminded me that I was not the only one who was feeling this way, and it was okay to share what I felt at times because, who knows, other people may have the exact same thoughts. I found that holding these sessions also didn’t only help me; the people in the groups and communities I was forming also showed a deep appreciation of coming together even just for a short time.
Doing this really affirmed my thought that because it is so easy to lock ourselves in solitary spaces so we can get work done, we become so accustomed to doing that and then let ourselves get into a cycle of shutting people out and stressing on our own. Sure, sometimes it may be helpful to step away from groups of people because that in itself can get overwhelming, but I think, in the long term, surrounding yourself with others especially during the peak stressful times can prove beneficial for your and other’s mental health.
Some people may be more confident than others in reaching out, especially because there is always the fear of rejection. However, I have found that more often than not, friends and peers are really grateful to have someone ask how they are actually feeling, or at least even checking up on them. Even a genuine conversation that starts with “how are you doing?” can leave someone feeling energized, rather than drained after the question is superficially thrown around. What I’m saying is, reach out when you can. Your friend may be really good at hiding their feelings (don’t we all become skilled magicians in this respect at some point in our academic careers?) It can be hard to notice others’ stresses when you are dealing with your own, I understand, but reaching out when you have the capacity to can really help others and yourself talk through some difficult feelings.
So many students have much bigger things happening outside of just academics, and it can be hard to allot mental energy to concentrate on those things, especially with a lot of pressure from various sources demanding that we focus on our studies. If you are able, reach out to a friend and check up on them. You never know what kind of connection you can make, and the positive impact you can have on someone just by giving them a bit of your time.