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Campus attitudes about stress

By Gabriel del Carmen

Section: Opinions

October 14, 2016

The glorification of stress is something I have observed quite often on this campus. Perhaps it is a symptom of an increasingly competitive job market or the ever-decreasing graduate school acceptance rates. Whatever the cause may be, unhealthy behaviors seem to be touted around campus as a badge of honor, a symbol indicating that “Yes, I too belong at Brandeis.” The badge goes to the individual who has slept the least, taken the worst care of themselves and has consumed the most amount of caffeine.

These attitudes about the overwhelming amount of stress we experience—which has created a competition of sorts—seem to perpetuate the notion that it is good to be stressed to the point of making oneself physically or mentally unwell. We brag about how much caffeine we have had to drink, how little sleep we’ve gotten and how many tests we have in quick succession of one another. And some of the students on campus with different time commitments feel shunned for prioritizing their self-care over their academics.

While this attitude is certainly uniquely salient among science majors and pre-med students (perhaps as a result of the intensity of the course-load and the unforgiving exam schedule), I find it extends to all other fields of study. And, perhaps hypocritically, I am undoubtedly as guilty as anyone else on this campus of placing my academic performance over my self-care and then discussing it with other people. But it is only because there is a pressure on campus to act a certain way when discussing academia. Talking about “stress” is not done in hushed tones, but is shouted from the top of Rabb steps. Did you really study that hard if you slept? I sometimes wonder the same.

These attitudes are obviously antithetical to health. What can be done to reverse a culture so ingrained in the minds of Brandeisians? Perhaps, instead of creating an environment that glorifies these notions of stress as any priority under academia, we ought to create one that pushes self-care as the most important priority.

While their roles are different, students and faculty are both responsible for the culture they create on this campus. Faculty ought to encourage extensions over a student’s sacrifice of their health, or simply improve the leniency by which they implement their extension policy. Improving the state of the mental health resources on campus is also huge step in the right direction.

The role of a student is just as important. Only they can create an environment that promotes the wellbeing of their classmates. Instead of trying to one-up each other as the “most stressed out,” we ought to be asking each other if we’re alright. I believe this will, ironically, improve our overall academic performance. There is much less to surmount if one only has to deal with the stress of impending stress, rather than having to deal with that same stress while dealing with physical and mental exhaustion. It is far from easy, but it is definitely worth it.

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