I wake in the middle of the night to ragged coughing and rustles of paper coming from the living room. I rub a palm into my eye and check the clock: 4:27. My bare feet padding across the bare floor, I walk to the living room where my roommate is surrounded by class notes, wadded up tissues, and her laptop open to a Quizlet set.
“Brooke,” I say sharply with concern, “you’ve been up since seven this morning working. You can’t expect to get better and do well on your exams. Go to bed.” She looks up startled, her tired eyes puffy and rimmed with red. She heaves a sigh and turns back to her computer screen.
“What’s more important than your getting better?”
“I have my Food and Culture of Italy midterm tomorrow.” She leans over and rustles through some loose notes. “Seriously, I’ll be fine. You can go back to bed.”
I open my mouth to protest but shut it knowing that my attempts to convince her to stop studying are futile. I shuffle back my room and lay awake thinking of how many times I also neglected my health for grades. The struggles surrounding finals week are something we are all too familiar with. The time of the semester when reality comes to a screeching halt, and you realize that your resolutions to spend the semester studying everyday went to the wayside. You scrape together every bit of willpower you have and vow that this is this last semester you go through finals week cramming. You say you’ll get more sleep, eat more brain food (instead of a entire jar of Skippy peanut butter over the course of 4 days, what up Freshman year,) and altogether control your stress and anxiety. What is it that causes us to time and time again neglect ourselves?
The unfortunate truth for college students is that we equate effort to the degree to which we neglect our physical and mental health. If we hear that someone studies until 2 in the morning every night or only gets 4 hours of sleep per night, we assume he or she is hardworking. If we hear that someone is going to get a workout rather than squeeze in another hour of studying, we think of him or her as somehow less driven. When did our academics become worthy of deteriorating our health and well-being?
One of the biggest contributing factors to stress in my opinion is getting in your head too much. Everyone knows what this is like. You start overthinking ever little thing and that’s how anxiety is formed. Whenever I used to get really overwhelmed in high school, my mom would always tell me to get outside of myself. What she meant by this was to not take myself so seriously and get some perspective. Even if it was just taking an hour out of my day and helping out at the old folks home or calling my grandparents and asking them about their day, not focusing on myself helped me realize that I might be blowing my issues out of proportion.
If you feel like you’re struggling with anxiety, try getting outside of yourself. Throw yourself into a club you love, try picking up a new hobby, taking a dance class, calling a relative you haven’t spoken to in a while, volunteer at a homeless shelter. Leaning into an activity other than schoolwork, which can be quite anxiety inducing, will not only act as an outlet for stress but it might also bring you a healthy dose of perspective.
Ok, so here it is. Here’s the part where I talk about the importance of healthy eating and exercise and you, dear reader, roll your eyes because you’ve heard this same pitch a hundred times before. Before you do, let me give you a little science lesson. When your body is under stress, it releases a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol can be released in your body when you are sleep deprived, malnourished, or hungry, you name it. When your body doesn’t have ways to metabolize the excess cortisol, it can wreak havoc on your body. I’m sure you can already guess one of the best ways to metabolize cortisol. That’s right, it’s exercise. If you are already a gym rat, props to you. Keep doing what you’re doing. For those of you whom aren’t big fans of working out, try going to a Zumba class or going on a hike. Don’t forget to fuel up on healthy fats and whole grains like nuts, avocados, and whole wheat toast (like avocado and walnut toast!)
There seems to be this idea in this day in age that viewing yourself as a priority is selfish. I will shout it from the mountaintops without any shame: that’s wrong! When you choose to take care of yourself and see your mental and physical health as a priority, you are investing in yourself. And if sitting down, taking a pause, and eating an entire bowl of guacamole is wrong, I definitely don’t want to be right.
Photo by: eltpics