by Catherine Arjet
It seems as if every time you mention being busy, or stressed, or overworked, someone chimes in saying how they are too, only more so. If you have two tests next week, someone else has two tests, a paper, and a quiz. If you’re taking 20 hours, someone’s taking 24. If you work three jobs, someone works four. If you got three hours of sleep last night, someone didn’t sleep at all.
We wear these stresses like a badge of honor; every panic attack brought on by a fast approaching deadline, something to be proud of, a way of proving that we’re so dedicated to our academics that we will sacrifice our mental health for a higher G.P.A. No one would ever come out and say this, but we all secretly delight in being the busiest of our friends. It makes us feel like we’re working harder, or even more deserving of success than everyone around us. I’ve even caught myself lying about how much I have to do or how little I sleep I get to come off as more industrious than my friends.
This kind of culture breeds guilt. Personally, if I have a night of light homework and can watch Netflix, or if I get a full eight hours of sleep I feel like I’m not working hard enough, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. This constant competitive drive to do more than each other, or at least be as busy as everyone else keeps us from enjoying the little down time we do earn.
Recently, a friend and I were talking about having nervous breakdowns due to stress and I found myself wondering if I should be having more; if I should take on more work, or hold myself to an even higher standard just so I can push myself past my breaking point and — for lack of a better expression — seem cool. Obviously, the answer to that is that I shouldn’t. We should not be celebrating the failure of our mental health or fault ourselves for knowing our limits and not pushing past them. While everything we do here is important, the unspoken idea that we should do so much that it negatively affects our mental health, and that if don’t we’re not working hard enough is toxic. Yes, other people are busier than me, but that does not constitute a personal fault of mine.
We also must remember that we never know what someone is going through. Your late teens and early twenties can be tumultuous years and any given person can be dealing with anything from a fight with a friend to the death of a parent. These things place a mental strain and taking a day–or even a semester–off for self-care is sometimes necessary. While you may view someone’s workload as light or easy, it may be that they are doing the absolute most they can under the circumstances. Alternatively, they may just want an easy semester, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
So what can we do to combat this? We can start by stopping comparing our schedules and stress levels. Next time a friend mentions their workload and how hard it is on them, don’t imply that yours is harder under the guise of relating. Try to notice these feelings of pride in hurting your mental and physical health in pursuit of a higher G.P.A. or more involvement as well as the feelings of guilt stemming from free time, and recognize the problems with them. It’s time that we all take action to end this culture of competitive busyness which harms all of us.