Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
When I ask my friends how they’re doing, it seems like their responses are always the same: “I’m good, but I’m just really busy.” I just saw a girl from my statistics class doing our homework that’s due in over a week because she “just doesn’t have anything else to be working on right now.”
Constantly working is the standard here at Duke. We create schedules for ourselves that are so jam-packed that we can’t afford spontaneous conversations with friends. We have to-do lists that are so long that it seems like there’s not even enough time in the day to add flossing to our dental hygiene regimens. We seem to wear our busyness on our chests like a badge of honor. And when everyone around us seems to be doing the same thing, it’s difficult to not simply just join the crowds.
After all — it’s the constant doing that may have gotten us into Duke in the first place. It’s what we know. Many of us come into Duke thinking that the reputation for academic rigor is going to consume us and our time. And then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; when the academic demand doesn’t meet our expectations, we seem to allow it to meet our expectations.
So why do we still do so much despite knowing that it’s often destructive to our well-being? Maybe it’s because humans are conformists — we just want to fit in. We strive to find connections and feel a sense of community because it provides us with purpose and makes us think our lives are meaningful. But when that sense of community stems from the commonality of stress and busyness from overworking ourselves, are we really getting what we want? We sacrifice our well-being and our humanity when all we have to do is slow down and understand what’s happening to us.
The promise of college is that it’ll be the best four years of your life. Before coming to college we’re spoon-fed expectations like, “I really found myself in college.” But when we’re constantly doing things, we have less time to foster meaningful relationships and to reflect and understand ourselves. Socrates can be credited with saying “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And we have no time to slow down and reflect when we’re constantly distracted with work.
Here are some things we can do about it:
Be a nonconformist.
Try to disregard the people surrounding you and what they’re doing. Work when you need to work. Play when you feel like playing. Try not to be constantly working or busy for the sake of fitting in. Learn a new skill (like knitting or the guitar).
Don’t be afraid to say no.
Commit to fewer things, and have a more open schedule so that you have more time for yourself and your downtime.
Put your phone in a drawer.
In the age of technology, we are so connected to our phones, which makes it nearly impossible to be alone to unplug and unwind. Just a text message away, our phones make it so that we’re constantly accessible to our friends, which could derail the intentionality of our downtime.
When we center ourselves around our breath, we simply exist in the present moment. It might be the only time of the day when we aren’t doing something. Ultimately, we’re human beings, not human doings — and meditating is the rawest form of being. Cherish that time. If you don’t know what you’re doing, try Headspace or go to a meditation class or group on your campus.
“How is your soul?”
This might be a more intentional question than “How are you?” because so many people just want to talk about how busy they are all the time. Don’t be afraid to say to your friends, I’d rather not hear how work is going or how busy you are. I want to know about your soul. Tell me if you laughed today or if you cried today. If you can, try to connect with the people who matter to you because of who they are, not because of what they do.
Do work away from your room.
On college campuses, there often is not a clear distinction between work and leisure for many students because people do work in their rooms. If possible, keep work away from your room. Keep the space within those walls centered around downtime, relaxation and self-care.
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