According to the American College Health Association, nearly one out of five university students is affected by anxiety or depression. There are many reasons why these disorders may be prevalent on college campuses, including smartphone addiction, the rising cost of college and mental overexhaustion. Nearly all students at Brown experience some form of mental overexhaustion at least once during their time here. Often, balancing a rigorous course load, extracurriculars and a social life can lead to burnout; however, it’s important to note that romanticizing a stressful and busy lifestyle can lead to further exhaustion. This obsession with having a busy life can negatively affect not only the school culture but also students’ mental health. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence at Brown; in 2012, Newsweek ranked Brown as the sixth most stressful school in America.
Around midterm season, it’s not uncommon to overhear conversations that revolve around people one-upping each other when it comes to who is “the most” overwhelmed. If one person says that they have two exams that week, someone else will respond that they have two exams that day. While it may seem unusual for people to be competitive about overexhaustion, it can be thought of as a result of our success-driven society. According to a Harvard study, Americans work 50 percent more hours than Europeans. The study suggests that Americans do this because of our cultural notion that hard work equals success. Our society focuses on input rather than output. It is the reason why many are willing to pull all-nighters and run on nothing but caffeine on a daily basis in order to be successful. In addition to this, many college students tend to romanticize academic stress since it is easier to talk about than social stress. Many people usually experience their social difficulties privately, making them feel further alienated, but a sense of companionship tends to be established when students discuss academic-related stress with each other as a bonding mechanism.
Sometimes, it may be impossible for someone to avoid pulling an all-nighter, especially during a busy time in the semester. And it can be nice to rant to other students about the stress we feel. However, the obsession with a busy and stressed lifestyle can have a detrimental impact on individuals and on the college campus as a whole. For individual students, numerous studies have shown that over time, low sleep levels contribute to higher rates of anxiety, depression, poor academic performance and obesity. In addition to this, someone with work addiction may begin to engage in compulsive work in order to avoid addressing other problems in their life, like personal crises or troubling emotional issues. And in terms of affecting the college campus overall, commonly discussing who has the most work or the least sleep can promote poor mental health and encourage destructive behaviors.
While there is value in hard work, it also important to not romanticize overexhaustion in order to ensure that students’ mental health is not being compromised. There are ways that students can make sure they achieve a balanced, healthy work ethic and lifestyle. For one, many people become addicted to stress once they move from “I feel stressed” to “I am stressed.” When people strongly identify with an emotion, it can become their definition of self. It’s important to remember that stress is not a reality; it is a bodily response to a feeling about a situation in the moment. By letting go of that attachment to the feeling, you can gain more perspective and be able to move forward from that emotion. It may be also helpful to step back and think about why you romanticize stress. If it’s because you are motivated by stress and the feeling of accomplishing things, use this to your advantage when completing work, but set healthy boundaries like going to bed at a decent hour in order to make sure your mental health is not at stake. If this obsession comes as a way to avoid personal issues, you may want to consider scheduling a session with Counseling and Psychological Services. Regardless of the reason, it’s important for us all to rethink our relationships with stress and take steps to establish healthy habits that will positively impact our mental health.
Chanel Johnson ’20 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.