By EKATERINA SAVELYEVA
You’re talking to a friend from class, and ask them their plans for the day. They respond with a detailed overview of their schedule; classes, study routines, extracurriculars, volunteer hours and even how they need to start looking for a job. Five minutes later they conclude, “I’m so stressed.”
You have a few potential reactions. There’s sympathy and support, wherein you tell them how sorry you are and maybe even provide a pep talk; empathy, because you’ve got a lot going on, too; or perhaps you express admiration, and applaud them for their hard work.
But sometimes, there’s a reflexive guilt – they’ve got so much going on, and you’ve got so little. However, the normalized over-exertion young adults view as a necessity shouldn’t be the norm at all.
Students need to realize that sometimes less is more, especially in terms of mental health.
The mentality that more is always better is visible nationwide, and has taken hold at UMW in particular. Freshman Carleigh Rann is involved with COAR, volunteering and tutoring on top of her studies, and she loves doing it–to an extent.
“There’s a kind of rewarding busyness that I like, but when it becomes tedious, and when it becomes chores, I just feel totally detached from it,” said Rann. She continued, “There’s this sense of, ‘oh my god, I just have all of these things to do, and I don’t feel like I’ll be able to accomplish them all, and none of them mean anything to me.’”
Rann has had to negotiate her level of occupation between her fall and spring semesters. After simultaneously taking several reading-intensive courses on top of her extracurriculars, she decided to sign up for fewer classes with demanding reading loads. Rann felt apprehensive, though, about making space in her day, even if it was space she desperately needed. “There’s a level of guilt, that I should be doing something. That’s what I felt this semester.”
Despite her guilt, Rann feels that she made the right choice. “I need that downtime, I need time to relax in order to feel ready to take on another day. I don’t think that’s something we value enough.”
Rann’s experience doesn’t stray far from other students’ accounts. This begs the question: if you’re stressed every week, why not cut back or make a change?
Don’t get me wrong, joining clubs, picking up activities and focusing on studies are essential components of immersing oneself into the college lifestyle. However, many students should examine their own mindsets to truly determine the reasons behind the opportunities they take and the choices they make: are they doing it for their enjoyment, or because they’ve been trained to feel they must?
Prior to college, high school encourages us to take up an eclectic series of activities, and to fill our schedules with as much as we can possibly fit on an application. “I had so many extracurriculars, I couldn’t fit them on the Common App” has been a common lament heard in circles of high academic achievement.
As a result it’s easy for students feel as if they’re not doing enough, and to overload on activities. Dr. Noelle Leonard, a researcher at NYU, observed in 2015 that many high schoolers’ lives had been reduced to an endless cycle of school, homework and extracurriculars. The result from this cycle is seemingly obvious: high stress levels. There’s nothing wrong with being busy, but it is unhealthy to be overworked.
In undergrad and graduate school, sheer momentum can lead students to assume that there, too, high achievement means lack of free time. The very height of this mentality can be seen most prominently in well-known, selective institutions: an article published in Harvard Magazine in 2010 headed itself with the declaration that modern undergraduates do “3,000 things at 150 percent.”
The statistics reveal a troubling caveat to this impressive assertion: a study published in the medical journal “Depression and Anxiety” found that three of four college students have experienced high stress within the last year, including highly academic successful students. Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, student enrollment increased by 5 percent while the number of students seeking mental health assistance increased by 30 percent. Sixty percent of students seeking counseling, as of 2017, reported issues with anxiety.
The college mentality of “busy is always better” leads directly into the adult world. The 2010s have given popularity, as Brigid Schulte claims in her book “Overwhelmed”, to the idea of the “ideal worker,” which she describes as one who never turns down work and wears being busy to the point of exhaustion as a status symbol. In fact, the epidemic of “bragging about how busy you are,” which Schult calls a “busier than thou” attitude, directly connects to this.
In other words, these overwhelming amounts of engagement are generational and self-perpetuating. Whether it be high school, college or the career field, we’re launched into competition with one another, which we up the stakes on by engaging in as much as possible. We tell each other about it with the implicit implication that if our peers are less busy than us, they’re losing the game. In reaction, we minimize the free hours of our day and build up our resumes until we have little to no time for social lives, introspection or basic enjoyment of life.
College is a perfect time to break the cycle, to participate in extracurriculars and interests that are meaningful to you, rather than what you think will look good on paper. It’s a time to internalize and broaden your studies rather than making the grade and moving on. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it is essential to spend our college years as a time for introspection and self-discovery. It’s time to support not only our peers but ourselves by leaving behind the idea that busier is better at any cost.