Thrive on Campus//

Harvard Time Runs on Loneliness

In a culture of business and time efficiency, perhaps we should learn to prioritize time for others as well.

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Courtesy of JP Valery / Unsplash

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.

Class at 10:30 a.m., interview at 4 p.m., meeting at 7 p.m., study the rest of the night. From sunrise to nearly sunrise again, every minute is neatly assigned to a colorful task on our Google calendars, creating a rainbow of responsibilities for each day.

Something seems to be missing within all of the orderly chaos, though. What is it? Oh, right. We forgot to schedule time for our friends.

With so much time blocked out for our own obligations, we inevitably fail to make time for others (and no, the 30 seconds of promising to grab a meal sometime do not count). We may sometimes drop everything to offer our friends a shoulder to cry on, but this opportunity rarely presents itself when we are constantly caught up in meetings, study sessions, and other concrete obligations. As friends become less and less of a priority within our schedule, we may find that we ourselves have no one to turn to, which breeds a campus culture burdened with loneliness and resentment.

The problem lies in the fact that students here simply do not have the emotional space nor the time to genuinely be there for others. With so much pressure to be high-functioning and constantly busy, students no longer feel comfortable with having free time. Every second has to be spent productively — or at least that’s what it has to look like. There have been times when I have climbed into bed for a nap, exhausted and sleep-deprived, only to roll around in vain due to pacing thoughts about the emails to which I need to reply, the PSet that’s due, all the other work I could be doing. Even free time isn’t truly “free” when there’s always something that could be done. And when every second is devoted to focusing on themselves and their own paths to success, how can students have the space to pause and consider what their friends may need?

I can say that I am not the only student on this campus who has felt this way. Too often, we cry, panic, break down, and burn out. Yet this cycle of overloading our plates not only isolates us from our peers, but it also makes us hesitant to be vulnerable to them. To imply that you’re struggling is to imply failure, after all, and who can afford to do that? None of us have the time anyway; an hour spent unloading to a friend is quickly followed by self-loathing and regret over how much time was wasted.

Prior to this year, the College operated on Harvard Time, in which everything began seven minutes later than the written time. But we now run on a different kind of Harvard Time, one in which no minute can go to waste, one that pushes the limits of the 24-hour cycle and prioritizes ceaseless productivity over emotions and relationships. Harvard Time now runs on loneliness, and the seconds that tick by are heard by no one until it is too late.

Perhaps if Harvard Time can be removed, so too can our culture of isolation and silent burnout. Scheduling is truly a matter of prioritization. If it means enough to you, coffee with a friend can just as easily own its own colorful block in your calendar as a meeting for a club or class. As for those of us who simply can’t avoid a packed week, we can make time for genuine friendship in other ways. A text checking in on someone goes a long way, and I’ve found that studying or working with friends has been one of the most effective ways of growing closer to others while still knocking something off of your to-do list. At the very least, we must offer ourselves as a sincere and genuine presence within the lives of others because the comfort of knowing that you have people nearby may be what carries someone through a particularly dark day.

Unless we all take proactive steps to truly be present for others, we will continue feeling unsupported, burdened, and alone, which is a recipe for disaster for a stressed out college student. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. If we can barely make time for ourselves, then it’s no wonder that we struggle with making time for others. In a culture of business and time efficiency, perhaps we should learn to change what we prioritize. If every minute must be scheduled in our lives, then we can choose to schedule minutes for our friends as well. Maintaining strong relationships is helpful and necessary to not only others but also ourselves, and it’s time to redefine what we consider to be important enough for our time.

Originally published at thecrimson.com.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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