Students and stress are an almost inseparable pairing. But when one’s mental health and well-being are on the line, we have an obligation to ourselves to let school take a back seat.
There’s no doubt — it’s stressful being a student. We all tend to joke about how stressed we are come midterms, essay season and finals, but behind the flippant way we talk about our anxieties lies a very serious truth: many of us are overstressed and unable to appropriately handle it.
Stress can be good for you to a degree. In simple terms, it gets the blood pumping. It lights a fire under your ass. It can be a valuable motivator. The problem is that we let it get out of control and end up harming ourselves because of it.
In July 2013, the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services released a report finding that among over 30,000 Canadian post-secondary students, 99.1 per cent admitted to feeling levels of stress, with 57.6 per cent identifying more than average to tremendous amounts. Similarly, being exhausted and feeling overwhelmed came in at 51.2 and 52.1 per cent respectively.
To say these kinds of statistics suggest an unhealthy level of stress among students would be a considerable understatement.
Making matters worse, these feelings of anxiety cause — and are caused by — students doing things that are simply bad for them, both physically and mentally. This includes staying up all night studying, not eating properly or regularly, not taking the time to socialize or even associating our grades with our value and worth as people.
The fact is that we’re putting our grades and “success” ahead of our very health and happiness, and that’s a serious problem. When school gets hairy, I’m certainly guilty of it — and when I remove myself from the situation long enough to consider the implications of such skewed priorities, I realize how truly ridiculous and destructive that kind of behavior is.
I know what it’s like to be invested in your classes and to go all out to get the best possible mark. I know it’s rewarding and validating to view your grades as a positive attribute about yourself. Unfortunately, this just isn’t the truth of the matter.
When all is said and done, your marks and performance at school don’t change who you are as a person. They may say something about the time or effort that you put forth, but even that isn’t a sure thing — sometimes your best preparation and efforts can still fall short of the mark — and that’s okay.
What does fundamentally change who you are is your mental well-being and happiness. That is what we’re sacrificing when we engage in these kinds of self-destructive behaviors. Nothing is more satisfying than getting a good mark and considering it to be a representation of you, but that reasoning only sets you up to feel like a failure when and if you receive a poor grade.
It needs to be said that grades are an exceptionally hollow and subjective assessment. We might like to believe that they truly do speak to our greater intelligence, but that would be to admit that our evaluation of ourselves should be based on what other people have to say about us.
It’s important to live up to your potential and we should all aspire to do our best under the circumstances. But when our classes come into conflict with our health, we need to put our best interests over our grades.