I officially entered the breakdown phase of student life the moment I ordered a coffee just to stay upright
I was wearing the hoodie I’d power-napped in all week. My dollar donut felt like a splurge. I drank the coffee and fell asleep anyway.
I swore it would never come to that again, but it became just how things normally are. My life is considered normal –– lucky, even –– but that’s not the point.
Most of us don’t think it’s abnormal to live in a tired and over-caffeinated state. We spend weekends with friends binging booze or alone, huddled around a laptop binging TV. Ubiquitous with academics is salty caramel Starbucks, exam beards, sweatpants and instant ramen.
Junk food, binging digital media and lack of sleep isn’t considered healthy. Our #relatable student lifestyle jokes aside, we may internalize the idea we are collectively failing at #adulting by living this way.
But the way we live is symptomatic of the conditions we’re in.
In other words, we’re doing what’s good for us given what we have to work with: stress, limited resources and the midterm wolves (I’ll return to that).
You’re doing better than you think.
The science of stress
Psychology research on college-level stress reported 80 per cent of students to be moderately stressed based on a standardized questionnaire. Other research found that stress affects students’ attention and concentration, physical health and mental health. This may seem obvious, but in the science world, nothing is real until verified by randomized control trial.
A 2006 study researched the types of stress students were experiencing. One hundred sixty-six students self-reported stress levels for each stressor on a five-point scale, in which (5) indicates “extremely stressful” and (1) indicates “not stressful.”
Results found the highest stress came from social interaction and “daily hassles” like not finding parking, waking up late and traffic. They found these stressors to be more stressful on average than stress involving family, finances and academics.
The study found that the reactions and coping methods used by college students were emotion-based, such as getting upset at friends and family or sharing emotions to seek support. These were used more often than approaches like re-examining emotions or stepping back from feelings to evaluate the situations.
As a result of these results, researchers proposed students do workshops to reduce stress. They hypothesized that workshops facilitating positive support and bonding would alleviate stress from social interaction, as well as promote self-reflection, rather than the emotional outburst-based coping adopted by many students.
Zooming in to the micro
Normal maintenance suffers when we have other things to do, which explains wearing sweats and exam beards. And the crippling lack of sleep.
Our health may suffer because this is the first time some of us are completely in charge of it. Some of our habits are direct results of the fact we’re still learning to manage ourselves, and that’s important, but some of your unhealthy decisions may be your body trying to cope with stress at a micro level.
Our inability to achieve a balanced diet –– in favour of sodium and sweet treats –– is affected by the amount of cortisol released in our bodies. Normally, cortisol is released in the body when you need to break down stored components for energy, it prepares your body for action. Respiration and heart rate increase, as well as muscle tension. Blood is directed toward vital organs.
If it seems like an over-reaction, your hypothalamus is pretty sure it’s wolves –– not that you’re failing the thermodynamics section of your course.
A preliminary study on 89 stressed women found they were more likely to go for higher-fat foods when stressed or avoid healthier foods like dried fruit –– even if they were offered. The cortisol makes you crave food that’s fattier or more sugary.
So you aren’t a food slob; it’s because cooking is hard and your body wants to buff you up with Lil’ Debbies.
Self–care that doesn’t cost you
We cut through daily hassles with mindless social media scrolling. Beyond the “millennial screens obsession,” social media also allows us to tune-out stress, socialize with others on our terms and express ourselves.
Video games, social media and Netflix don’t seem as refined as hobbies or sports that satisfy our need to include a workout, skill or mental training to our activities.
Having the time, energy and money to develop a hobby is a privilege.
Stress from fatigue is obvious. There’s also burnout. We are made to feel guilty for relaxing instead of maximizing employable skills. We can’t spend all our time volunteering and networking. The pressure to stay productive is a constant cloud over the life of a student.
But you don’t need to buy into this. Sometimes your wellbeing, your friends and family or other needs take priority.
No reason to guilt yourself.
Our activities can’t tax our monetary, physical or emotional budget. That’s why on a daily scale, digital media is nice. So we unwind by enjoying a season’s worth of content.
If we’re doing our best, or at least what comes naturally, why do we feel so bad about it?
We think self-care should take be set aside as a one task activity and organized, usually with the use of products. It should involve consuming specific relaxation industry items like bath bombs and lotion or meditation apps.
To be able to relax in an hour in comfy pants you already own seems lazy. Doing it “properly” requires rose petals and the silk robe. Yoga classes, walks in the woods, and long luxurious baths aren’t accessible to everyone. Same thing with health food.
But you still need to relax and eat.
When we’re coping in nonideal circumstances, remember to hold our habits to realistic standards of self-maintenance. We’re all just human.
All we can do is buy what we can afford, manage what we can, do what we have energy for and try our best to take care of ourselves. And if the best you can do is chug some frothy beverages and blaze through a few hours of Bloodborne so be it.