With less than a month to go in the semester, last week was that week when professors unanimously decided to offer less-than-subtle reminders of “what’s coming up.” They always mean well, and they’re just doing their jobs, but trust me when I say that I’m well aware of the looming onslaught of exams and papers — don’t remind me. I do enough reminding of my own every time I explain to certain friends, the kind of people who could never fathom spending a Saturday night at the library, that I haven’t disappeared for good, just until April 26.
While I sincerely enjoy learning, the reality is that I’ve done far too well this semester to trip at the finish line. So, maybe the bar calls out your name at 5 p.m., but it knows better than to taunt me. With four exams (one worth 55 percent of my grade), three papers and two projects coming up over the next three weeks, my time is a precious commodity.
Why do I feel the need to do so well in my academic endeavors? It’s who I am — a perfectionist of the worst kind — but ironically, seeking perfection might be the greatest of all flaws, for it induces one of the most destructive threats to our overall health: stress. Exorbitant stress can cause hair loss, headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, sleep problems and a slew of nagging physical symptoms, but it takes its greatest toll on our emotional wellbeing.
Stress follows me around relentlessly, in and out of the classroom, like one of those guys who thinks that “Hi,” means “I’m interested.” Rather than accept my best efforts, I’m shackled to the letter on my transcript, and it’s hard to turn off that mindset, even though it cripples my confidence, shatters my self-esteem and sucks the joy out of my accomplishments. But until recently, I never thought about stress as, literally, a killer.
For my writing class, I had to repurpose a written work and present the concept in a new form of media. I made a video out of an essay I wrote about attending the Wharton School of Business because I cared more about academic rankings than finding “the right fit,” among other poor decisions crafted by my overactive ego.
As I researched films, television shows, songs and books, which presented similar themes, to include in my video as resources, I stumbled upon a documentary called, “Race to Nowhere,” which reveals the dark side of the overachieving culture in America and the grave consequences from pushing children too hard.
I could see my reflection as I investigated this subject matter (though the “pushing” was of my very own doing and not as much mom and dad), but I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered as I delved deeper into the documentary’s stories: In 2008, a 13-year-old honor-roll student committed suicide after receiving an ‘F’ on her math test.
There were dozens of other stories like it, and I began thinking about what really matters to me — what comes first — and that’s my health. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, my health prefaces everything else in my life. I must maintain an adequate balance of caring for myself and for my responsibilities, or I’ll end up as stressed out as that 13-year-old girl.
To all you stressed-out students: Take extra care of your mind and body, now more than ever. As you raise your amount of allotted study time to match the stakes, eat well (plenty of fruits and veggies!) and engage in purposeful exercise, like Yoga, an ancient breathing practice designed to reduce stress and anxiety by relaxing the motor muscles and slowing down overall rate of bodily activities.
But perhaps the best way to cope during challenging times is to get emotional support from those who understand. I took more time off from my studies than usual last weekend to hang out with a couple good friends from out of town, the kind who’d gladly join me at the library on a Saturday night (with a strict “no talking” contract we mutually endorse). Afterward, my mood had way mellowed, and I’d never felt more relaxed as I headed to hit the books.
So, as I temporarily withdraw from the world to eliminate distraction while preparing for some seriously rigorous academics trials — desperate times call for desperate measures — I’ll try not to forget to come up for air and remember that finals are mandatory, but stress is a choice.