Our society glorifies “busy.” We feed off of being overcommitted, underfed, over-exhausted, and overstressed. The question “How are you?” is usually answered by listing an impressive amount of commitments, complaints, and to-dos.
In 2015, the American Psychological Association conducted a study on stress levels in American adults. They asked the participants to rate their stress on a scale of 1-10 (1 being little to no stress, 10 being extreme stress), and nearly one-third of adults rated themselves at a 9 or 10.
As a college senior at a rigorous institution, I feel that this issue is even more amplified on campus. It seems that students are perpetually on a hamster wheel of thesis writing, job searching, homework, and on-campus commitments. The bizarre thing is, there seems to be an unspoken competition of who can be the busiest, most-stressed-out person. It seems that if you’re getting a full six hours of sleep, you’re lazy. If you have time for yourself to relax, you’re not doing enough. While none of these judgments are ever directly said, the sentiment is that there is a negative correlation between one’s importance and one’s free time.
The world in which we live in now is one of intense individualistic competition. As college students just about to spring off into the real world, everyone feels an anxiety about who they will become outside of the walls of the institution. People wonder if they are prepared enough to cultivate a life entirely on their own. Yet rather than finding positive outlets for this anxiety, people perpetuate this anxiousness and spur each other on, leaving everyone feeling even more unprepared and panicked.
I think this is where that competition stems from: fear. People are afraid that their hard work will not pay off. People are afraid that their secured status on a small, liberal-arts campus will soon be washed anonymous within the bustling real world. People are scared that they will fall behind the crowd, and that after graduation their classmates will do better than them. So, we undermine each other’s accomplishments, we try to make ourselves seem busier and more successful in order to comfort our growing fears.
But why does being exhausted have to equal success? Why do we glorify having no time to ourselves? If we care about ourselves and our friends, we should be encouraging each other to find time to de-stress. Having time to take a 30-minute power nap, to watch a show at night, or to spend time with friends without any outside commitments should be a good thing. Being able to work hard but also find the balance to create a decent quality of life should be what we are striving for, not simply working ourselves to the bone in order to prove that we can do so. By trying to compete as who can be the most stressed out, we inadvertently send the message that self-care and rest are not important. We instill within each other and ourselves that having time for ourselves equates laziness.
The ironic thing is, if we do not take care of ourselves, eventually everything else will fall apart. Working diligently to achieve our goals is so important, but ensuring that we are mentally/emotionally/physically fit in order to do so. Without rest, we will not have the energy to perform to the best of our abilities. We will not have the capacity to fulfill our commitments to the highest degree. Our health will crumble, and in turn so will everything else.
Yes, life is stressful. Yes, post-grad life is a terrifying prospect for most college students. However, the focus needs to shift from how stressed we are, to healthy ways in which we can alleviate that stress. We need to stop subconsciously challenging each other to get less sleep and do more, but rather encourage each other to care for ourselves along the way. We need to learn to nourish ourselves emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Start each day scheduling in an hour for yourself, a half an hour – whatever it takes for you to begin to dismantle this idol of stress that we have learned to create. What should you do during that time? According to the American Psychological Association, some of the most helpful and common ways people de-stress are:
Listening to music
Spending time with family
Watching television or movies
Surfing the internet
Taking a nap
In fact, according to a study done by NASA, a short nap (between 20-40 minutes) can improve performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent. We all have 20-40 minutes of our day that we can get off screens, put our distractions aside, and relax (or nap). Carving out time to care for ourselves will leave us better prepared to do everything else, and will help remind ourselves and each other that there are far more important, better things in life than being perpetually stressed out.