The heartache and thousand natural shocks of college

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To be, or not to be — that is the question many students ask themselves as they battle against the sundry rigors of college life on a daily basis. I remember a time during finals week when I made my way to the Orbach Science Library for a late-night study session. Upon reaching the third floor, I scrutinized the room for an empty cubicle. But as I did so, I considered the congregation of students. Many were disheveled in appearance; heads were bowed, eyes caught fixedly by the fluorescent glow of the laptop screen, coffee and munchies readily at their side. An extreme case presented itself in the form of a man, complete with sleeping bag and pillow, sleeping fetal-position on top of a desk. Ah, to die, to sleep …

As we know only too well, college can be a major health drain. Think about it: Constantly, students are pressured to obtain good grades in hopes of fulfilling their career aspirations; students struggle to develop and maintain healthy social and romantic relationships; students juggle overwhelming coursework with conflicting work schedules during the school year; students battle with the often expensive costs of attending college. With all this taken into account, who wouldn’t feel like the ground is about to collapse from underneath them?

Stress, by far, is the greatest bane to any college student’s experience. A 2010 survey researching a rise in stress levels within the college freshman populace, in which more than 200,000 incoming full-time students at four-year colleges participated, revealed, “the percentage of students rating themselves as ‘below average’ in emotional health rose. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said their emotional health was above average fell to 52 percent. It was 64 percent in 1985.”

A huge portion of college students’ decline in health is due to the pressures students place upon themselves. With the rising costs of attending college and the magnified importance placed on ensuring financial and career stability after graduation, students now more than ever make academic achievement their top priority, often sacrificing their health in the process. “Students know their generation is likely to be less successful than their parents’, so they feel more pressure to succeed than in the past,” said Jason Ebbeling, director of residential education at Southern Oregon University. “These days, students worry that even with a college degree they won’t find a job that pays more than minimum wage, so even at 15 or 16 they’re thinking they’ll need to get into an M.B.A. program or Ph.D. program.”

With this imperative to be successful in school, students will go beyond their natural limits. Students pull all-nighters to catch up on their readings; students’ use of caffeine increases during exam weeks; fast food takes the place of home-cooked meals; exercise falls on the back-burner as studying becomes more important. As a result, our irregular sleeping patterns and unhealthy eating habits negatively affect our performance in class. According to Campus Mind Works, sleep deprivation is one of the major deleterious factors in a college student’s life. It claims that “lack of quality sleep increases hormone levels which can affect mood and stress levels. It can lead to problems with concentration, memory, judgment, problem solving and reaction time … When your concentration is compromised, your energy level is low or you have lowered memory retention, it may be harder to pay attention in class, harder to study, and definitely more difficult to perform well on a test.”

Now, we can easily point fingers at that one austere professor who makes esoteric remarks in lecture, those long hours at work, or certain people who irritate you — what have you, the list goes on. I myself can attest to this. I am guilty of procrastinating on a big paper and paying the price of my sloth with an all-nighter on sundry occasions, and I am not alone in this experience. Ultimately, it falls upon us to adopt habits that will help us maintain our health and sanity while keeping the difficult balance of our personal and academic lives.

We can accomplish this by making small but significant changes in the way we study. After devoting about two hours to concentrated study, we can reward our brains with a half-hour to an hour break doing something we enjoy, like watching a favorite show on Netflix or reading a book. Caffeine certainly helps keep the mind alert, but coffee consumed in excess isn’t healthy; we can be prudent in our caffeine consumption by lowering our intake to two coffees maximum. We can take five-minute study breaks stretching and doing jumping jacks — it sounds silly, but it helps get your blood flowing again after extended periods of inactivity. We can also discipline ourselves into following an organized work schedule, using planners and prudently utilizing the hours of the day without having to lose a good night’s sleep.

UC Riverside is also here to help students combat stress, not just to burden us with coursework and financial concerns. The Well, located at the HUB 248, provides many invaluable programs, such as stress management, weight management and exercise incentives, that work to modify deleterious lifestyle habits and facilitate behavioral changes; it also contains support groups and resources that teach and encourage students to embrace a healthy lifestyle and properly relieve stress. The Student Recreation Center provides cardio workouts, recreational sports, and other fitness programs that help students sustain their physical and mental well-being. And campus counselors are here to shepherd students through any of their emotional and mental health issues. Remember, the staff attended college and dealt with the same struggles we do; they probably know a thing or two about navigating college life.

In the brief moment of clarity in Orbach, I shared a tacit affinity with the students there, realizing each one carries their own story of quiet perseverance in the face of the most daunting academic and personal trials. It is easy to forget, when we are pressured to put up a perfect face and become absorbed in our own problems, that we are not the only ones who have trouble.

So, you have that big midterm on Friday morning and the deadline for your seven-page English paper is Thursday night? Well, head on over to your local Scotty’s, grab a Starbucks Espresso Shot and some snacks, lock down in the library and prepare yourself; it’s going to be a long night. I wish you the best of luck, and my regards to you as a fellow student who demonstrates that, because of our desire to be the best individual we can be, it is, at least temporarily, nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows college throws our way.

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