opinion

Study, Sleep, Repeat: Beat the College Slog

Image By: Max Homstad

Ah yes, a new academic school year. Marked by frantically rearranging schedules, squeezing in time for friends before classes pick up and stocking a new regimen of professors, TAs and advisors, this time of the year impacts many students differently. 

Some are exhilarated by the prospect, while others become debilitated with anxiety and fear at the thought of re-entering a zombie-like state of juggling responsibilities. 

Either way, it’s coming, so we may as well prepare ourselves — in terms of our mental health, personal expectations and finding a balance — in order for this semester to be considered a triumph as it closes. 

It is no question that college students like ourselves face an arsenal of stressors, many of which we are not predisposed to. From rigorous courses, arranging work schedules, managing student organization duties and everything in between, the nature of being a college student is demanding and is sure to take a toll. 

Just look at the data:

Over the past 25 years, nearly three-quarters of college students nationwide worked while enrolled in classes; 40 percent had over 30 hour work weeks. 
Out of UW students, nearly half of 2018 bachelor’s degree earners did research while at UW. Over a quarter earned academic credit through workplace experience.
In 2018, around 45 percent of the students surveyed by the National College Health Assessment reported that they only got enough sleep to feel rested in the morning less than half of the time. 
The NCHA also recognized some factors that students felt impacted their academic performance substantially: stress (35.3 percent), anxiety (28 percent), sleep difficulties (23.5 percent), depression (19.8 percent), and work (15.9 percent). 

This isn’t even to consider the additional stressors for students belonging to targeted minority groups, such as first generation college students (of which 17 percent of the class of 2020 is comprised of), low-income folks, and those who previously recognized a need for supplementary support for mental health reasons, differing abilities or otherwise. 

Figures such as these don’t come as a surprise when studies show that suicide is the leading cause of death among college and university students in the United States. Right here at home, 21 percent of students screened positive for depression, 16 percent for anxiety, and 9 percent had experienced suicide ideation at some point among the study’s duration, according to UW’s healthy minds study. 

It’s clear that many college students struggle with their mental health — whether this takes form as a diagnosable condition, a need for a lifestyle change or a challenging adjustment — so why is there still such a taboo surrounding it? 

Despite recent progress that has been made to normalize mental illnesses, through the work of local and national politicians, campus policies and advocacy by health organizations, there is an evident need for further work to be done. 

Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are very real struggles some students are forced to confront every day. The naivety of “just be happy” or “don’t be nervous” remarks show the ever-present lack of understanding and common oversimplifications when it comes to mental health. 

Often leading to a reluctance for individuals to seek help or for the public to take mental health problems seriously, college students must tackle yet another challenge in a time where they shouldn’t have to worry about the validity of their difficult and complex situations. 

This is not to say that all is dismal, however — University Health Services’ mental health department is experiencing rising usage among students. 

But due to limits on free resources for students and other, oftentimes financial, barriers, this resource can only go so far and reach so many students effectively. Along with this, there are societal standards and expectations we as college students (knowingly or unknowingly) hold ourselves to, which ultimately put additional strain on our capacity to manage stress.

While it is unclear what factors tangibly contribute to each individual student’s stress, it is exceedingly evident that there is a presence of a campus, and nation-wide, epidemic. We must counter it with healthy habits, positive messaging regarding seeking help and a less toxic work/school/life balance.  

Course load 

UW first-through-third year students average enrollment of 14.4 credits in a given fall semester, potentially places pressure on students to fit (or exceed) this number. 
Every student is different — and finding a balance between coursework and other responsibilities is a skill. Check out any available syllabi or professor/TA resources before dictating your entire schedule around that class that you aren’t quite sure you can handle. If you have concerns, chat with your teacher or any friends that may have previously taken the class to determine what to expect and make a decision from there. There is no shame in dropping classes!

Work

Working while in school is oftentimes a necessity for many students, whether it’s to pay for books and tuition or to contribute to their savings for post-graduation.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college students in the United States spend two to three hours of their average weekday working, while only spending three to five hours in class, studying and other such educational activities. Although the numbers may seem striking to some, in that only an hour differentiates time spent for school and work, it’s also the grave reality of affording higher education. 
It’s important to never overwork yourself during the school-week in order to keep a healthy mind, as every therapist always says. If it’s financially feasible, try a campus job where hours are usually limited to around ten per week. This can help to find that balance between work, school and building relationships. However, if this is not the case, then try having an open conversation with your supervisor about the importance of school. You could also choose to take more online courses during the semester to enhance your flexibility to work and study.

Extracurricular Involvement

We have over 1,000 student organizations here on campus, with interests ranging from ecologically-minded advocacy to political activism to religious and spiritual communities. While a study from 2010 found that undergraduates involved in such student activities do not have lower GPAs from students who fill their time in other ways, the NCHA did find that approximately ten percent of students felt that participation in extracurriculars impacted their schoolwork. 
As you stroll through the crowded Org Fair to find a new club, or even reconsider your involvement in a club you currently participate in, make sure that there are clear expectations regarding your time and energy spent on the organization. As integral as such activities can be to your college experience, you are still here to get a degree and better yourself, which is hard to do if you spend all of your time making flyers and planning cool student-oriented events!

Social Life

As a university that prides itself on its social culture (for better or for worse) it can be tricky making and maintaining those super awesome “college friends” you hear about. 
One of our favorite ways to troubleshoot this moral dilemma is by planning your social time into tasks you already need to be doing. For example, you need to eat, so why not make it a dinner party? You need to study — bring snacks, play some music and spread out at a park or on the Terrace. If this isn’t feasible, effective communication with your friends can change the vibe from your loved ones feeling a sense of neglect or apathy, to being supportive of your mental health and personal needs.

Although these tips are not an end-all solution to the woes of college life, the most important thing is to take care of yourself as this academic year begins. The bottom line is, if you are struggling, talk to someone — be it a parent, best friend or trusted TA. 

There is no shame in seeking professional help. As one may go to a doctor to keep up their physical health, speaking to a psychiatrist or therapist is a way to keep your mind healthy. 

Mental health must be taken seriously, in light of the lingering stigma. By supporting one another on campus and using each other as resources, we can all begin to thrive in one of America’s best college towns.

Sam is a junior studying journalism, with certificates in development economics and environmental studies, Kavitha is a junior studying political science and sociology, with a certificate in educational policy. What are your thoughts on this upcoming school year and mental health? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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