BY MIRIAM LEVY '17
Imagine sitting down to eat lunch with friends and instead of focusing on the conversation, you spend the entire meal fretting about a more productive way to spend your time. Or feeling confident before a test, only to find out someone else pulled an all-nighter to study and immediately feeling like you are completely unprepared. These are examples of what it’s like to be on a college campus that has a rampant stress culture. While defined differently by everyone, in its simplest form, stress culture is the perpetuating idea that if you aren’t stressed, you are doing something wrong and that being the most stressed person around is some sort of noteworthy achievement.
It’s hard to boil stress culture down to something that is either bad or good. While people shouldn’t be competitively pulling all-nighters, it’s also not a bad thing to see people around you working hard to be well prepared for every test and class and feel pushed to do the same. On the Mount Holyoke campus, stress culture seems to dictate students’ academic and social lives. Our own perceptions of stress culture are influenced by everything from our class year to our extracurricular activities.
Mount Holyoke’s stress culture seems to be perpetuated not only by the general climate and students we attract, but by the fact that most students live on campus all four years. As such, we are acutely aware of how hard everyone else around is us working.
Athlete Annie Kuenning ’17 said, “I don’t view stress as purely negative; stress helps me prioritize and work hard.” Kuenning also said that people like to “compare who is more stressed by talking about how much they are involved in or take on.” She claimed, “people being proud about how stressed they are creates a negative environment, but I see this less within athletics; most athletes know that people are stressed since their sports commitment eats a lot of time.” Kuenning tends to use the stress she feels to help her with time management, as it makes her more productive.
It is certainly a pressing issue on our campus, but how do we compare to other campuses? Corina Willner ’17 noted that the stress culture present on our campus seems to be comparable to the stress culture that is perpetuated on other small campuses, based on her interactions with students from other liberal arts schools both in the U.S. and those she’s met abroad. Compared to her friends at state schools, however, she noted, “we are quite a bit deeper into stress culture.”
An important part of discussing stress culture is identifying ways to fix it. Some ways to help could be checking in with friends about how they’re doing and compassionately calling them out when it seems they are engaging in unhealthy stress culture related actions, such as skipping meals or staying up all night to work. As students, we need to be as dedicated to taking care of our mental and physical health as we are to our academic and extracurricular pursuits.