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Mental Health

Is the Stress Really Worth Being the “Best”?

Throughout my time at the University of Florida, I’ve heard many conversations around campus where people complain–while secretly bragging–about the lengths they had gone to to ensure that their grades stay up to par. These conversations included phrases like, “I only slept two hours yesterday because I was up all night studying!” and “Ugh, why did I get so involved and take a 16-credit semester?” And finally, this classic: “I’ve only had coffee today because I’m just so busy.”

I’ve also been guilty of saying some of these phrases. The revered and boastful tones we use to subtly show off how much we have on our plates just perpetuates the following toxic mindset: You are not truly successful unless you overexerted yourself to get there. If we are not rushing from one meeting to another or from class to an internship, we are failing and not doing what we should be doing. UF is home to some of the brightest and most motivated students. This school is filled with overachievers who all worked very hard to get into UF. The mindset of needing to go above and beyond expectations does not go away after getting accepted into UF; in fact, it might make it worse. It’s easy to compare yourself to everyone around you, but the way success is measured can take students down a path leading them to burn out and feel unworthy. Here are some things to keep in mind.

We’re all different

I remember feeling guilty for complaining about how difficult a class was because, as some people around me would remind me, my major isn’t that hard. This is an unfair way to judge who’s allowed to feel stressed out or overwhelmed by school. Every major has classes that are hard work and take a lot of time and energy to do well in. One person’s strength might be another’s weakness, and this can influence the classes we struggle in or have to put a bit more work into. It took me a while to learn this myself and understand I had a right to voice my worries about a class no matter what.  

The problem is comparing yourself to other people. You can’t worry you aren’t taking as many credits as someone, that you still don’t have an internship or that you aren’t involved in as many clubs as your friend. Everyone is different and knows when they are pushing themselves too much. There is no reason to push yourself to meet this imaginary benchmark of perfection.

It’s okay to ask for help

Since I’ve been at UF, I’ve heard countless times about the resources available to students. It can be overwhelming when you first start here to have all these names of different organizations thrown at you, and you may forget these things are available.

Patrick Dinmore, a 21-year-old UF English junior, is an AWARE ambassador and the ASPIRE student assistant at the Counseling and Wellness Center. When talking about his position, Dinmore said he essentially works with a number of other student ambassadors to provide “outreach services to classes, organizations and faculty departments that bring awareness to mental health with the goal to reduce the stigma on campus.”

The nice thing about these services is that student organizations can reach out and ask for these presentations to be given at their meetings, Dinmore said. This allows for students to talk to other students that work for the CWC about mental health.

The topic can be daunting to tackle, but talking to a peer who is knowledgeable about it can make it a bit easier and more comfortable. While UF has organizations like the CWC that help, it doesn’t fully change the culture of this school.

Cassandra Deutcsh, a 19-year-old UF pre-professional biology sophomore, can relate to the toxic environment here at UF, especially when it comes to extracurricular activities.

“They made us these lists of all the things we were supposed to be doing every semester, like volunteering, shadowing and clinical volunteering, which barely leave room for academics,” Deutcsh said. “People here make you feel like if you aren’t constantly studying, you aren’t working hard enough, which is the most counterproductive attitude, because studying 15 hours a day isn’t healthy.”

Friends can feel far and few in between

As hard and demanding as school is, you still need to take breaks. I know after 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., studying is pointless for me because I’ll get tired, and I won’t absorb anything. Still, it’s hard to shake the guilt I should push myself, and that I’m not trying hard enough because I went to bed on time.

I think part of the reason we feel guilty when we take time for ourselves is best explained in something Deutcsh said during our conversation.

“Students at UF are competing with each other constantly when they could be helping one another achieve more, but because UF is always trying to be the best, they push their students to have the same attitude as well,” she said.

There is definitely a culture here of always feeling like you’re in competition with those around you. I felt this especially this past year when I was applying for law school. People I had done mock trial with and talked about being pre-law with in the past suddenly didn’t want to offer up any sort of information about their applications or discuss the process. It made an already confusing and daunting process much more intimidating. As time went on, I realized maybe it’s not such a bad thing that people feel the need to be so secretive about their academics. While it can feel isolating, it does help stop oneself from comparing themselves to other people.

I also talked to Dinmore about how comparing yourself to others can be a crutch.  

“The biggest harm I was doing to myself was comparing myself to others without really focusing on what I wanted to do,” he said. “As I enter the latter half of my time at UF, I do have a stronger sense of self-assurance.”

Learning to focus on yourself is a good way to avoid feeling unsure about yourself and what you’re doing. It also helps to have friends in different fields so you can talk about your aspirations without feeling like you’re directly competing with them.

While chugging coffee and knocking out an essay in a night can feel fulfilling, your mental and physical health is more important in the long run. Remembering you’re not alone and you have resources at UF can feel like an anchor grounding you to the reality. Spacing out assignments and speaking up when you feel burdened by too many commitments is better than sacrificing your sanity.

“When faced with burnout from school,” Dinmore said, “the best thing I did was actually reach out to the Counseling and Wellness Center and utilize their virtual resources that they had available on their website.”

Make sure to explore what the CWC has to offer, talk to a friend or therapist and prioritize yourself and your peace of mind over a grade or club. It’s not bad to want to be successful, but be careful what you give up in hopes of achieving it.

Caroline is a fourth-year sociology major at the University of Florida. She is from south Florida and loves to travel, cook, read, and listen to true crime podcasts.
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