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Observer Editorial: Take time for yourself

| Friday, November 15, 2019

We’re all here because we’re high achievers.

We care a lot about our grades. We fixate on our futures, and it’s easy to believe every achievement is a notch on the ladder of success. The academic expectations are unrelenting, and those aren’t the only high bars we set for ourselves. We expect ourselves and each other to have passions outside of class, to be involved in dorm life and to go out at least once a week, if not twice or more. We compare the number of credits we’re taking, the minuscule hours of sleep we get each night, the number of clubs we join and the way we make it all look effortless.

But we know it’s not. We see what you’re going through. We feel the pressure you’re under. We understand — it’s not easy.

The investigations team at The Observer has been working on a series about mental health. Last week, we reported on the availability of counseling services at Saint Mary’s in the midst of the resignation of the Health and Counseling Center director. This week, our reporters looked into eating disorders and evaluated the support systems available for students in need.

The tri-campus community does have resources available to help those who are struggling, and we encourage you to take advantage of them. McWell offers hot tea, trail mix, essential oils and more. The UCC lends a listening ear. But in some ways, these feel like band-aid fixes for a much deeper issue. If the unrelenting, pressure-cooker social culture of the tri-campus community doesn’t change, the limited resources available can only be a temporary solution.

The pressure we feel comes from many sources, and none of us are blameless in overextending ourselves. But it’s important to also look at the institution and recognize the ways the University itself can perpetuate these feelings. Take the call, “Be a force for good.” It’s wonderful students aspire to be that force, and it’s encouraging the University believes we can live up to such a high ideal. But even this call to action can be insidious to an already-overwhelmed student who can hardly find the time to finish their homework, much less be that force for good.

We’re asked, “What are you fighting for?” Sure, many alumni and students are fighting to end malaria, bring about world peace, educate the masses. We admire them for their accomplishments, and we’re proud to attend that very same University. But some days, we fight to get out of bed or we fight to make time for friends, and those are the only fights we have the energy to take on. And we need to recognize that’s OK.

In the midst of this anxiety-inducing environment, it’s hard not to compare yourself to others, but it’s vital to recognize that everyone is on a different timeline and path. Just because your classmates are applying for a job or an internship doesn’t mean that you, too, should do the same. Students in Mendoza face immense pressure to secure an internship by sophomore year and solidify a job by early senior year. Medical school applications are different from law school applications which are different from job applications — and all jobs are different from each other. Set your own pace.

And no matter what happens, never conflate your success with your worth. Just as a snazzy internship doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else, not having a job or an internship doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, or that you are any less of a person. You are not your credit-load or the number of clubs you attend. You’re a human being, not an achievement bot. You have inherent value outside of your wins and losses.

So, as the semester ramps up and nears its end, we hope you keep this advice in mind. It’s OK if you watch an extra episode of Friends (or three) or skip your professor’s office hours or sleep through brunch with your little or not get an A on that paper. It’s OK to take time for yourself. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Give yourself a break, not because you did or didn’t earn it, but because you deserve it, regardless.

And whenever you can, remind your peers that they deserve a break, too. When it comes to issues of mental health in a culture that encourages perfection, it’s easy to feel alone. But remember, today, that you’re not, and remind someone else that they’re not alone, either.

It still makes you a force for good if you’re just good to yourself. And if you don’t know what to fight for, today, just fight for yourself, your peace of mind and your mental health. We’ll be right here, fighting alongside you because you’re never as alone as you think.

Renee Yaseen
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