The end of the semester — and for me, the end of my undergraduate career — has prompted me to reflect on the past few months and years. Finals week is always a stressful time, and layering the stressors of graduation and living during a pandemic has meant that this time has been especially nerve-racking. But, lately, I’ve been thinking about the status of my mental health and reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past few years.
My time in college has coincided with a cultural destigmatization of mental health and mental illness. When I first entered college, it seemed like a lot of people were left to figure things out on their own. Now, however, there has been a greater push for mental health resources and support for students. Whereas a few years ago, it might have been intimidating to state that you were seeing a therapist, now, saying that you met with a therapist is just about as normal as remarking that you went to a regular doctor’s appointment. I have been glad to see that mental health is treated just as seriously as physical health — but I think that our culture still has a long way to go in terms of creating an environment that is more accessible and respectful of everyone’s personalized differences in mental health status.
[bf_image id="4tpwg3gw3q57fzngmb24m35z"] One trend that I would like to see addressed is the fetishization of burnout. At freshman orientation, and throughout college, I remember being told almost constantly how you needed to be hyper-involved on campus in order to have a meaningful college experience. Peer advisors and other mentors told me that by participating in a laundry list of extra-curricular activities, I would have an amazing college experience and be prepared for life after college. Being young, naïve, and unsure of what I wanted to do, I took this advice to heart and signed up for more things that I could handle. Over the years, I have slightly reduced the number of organizations or activities that I am involved with, but the messaging of being an involved student does not seem to value taking stock of what involvements are actually meaningful to you.
I am glad to have been a part of so many organizations while in college, but as I wrote earlier this year, I also wished that I had more time to spend on hobbies, hang out with friends, or practice self-care. Instead of focusing on what was best for me, I often prioritized what other people or organizations needed from me before considering how those involvements were helping or hurting me.
Similar to this idea of over-exerting yourself for some pre-conceived notion of what you are “supposed” to do during college, I see a lot of connections to the prevalence of negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is defined as “any inner dialogue you have with yourself that may be limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your own abilities and to reach your potential. It is any thought that diminishes your ability to make positive changes in your life or your confidence in yourself to do so. So negative self-talk can not only be stressful, but it can really stunt your success.”
[bf_image id="8m7gkg3jp6h67hmnn59x"] For me, I found that when I would focus on what other people or organizations needed from me — instead of considering how I felt about those involvements — I would often talk negatively to myself for not being able to fulfill the mold of being an involved student. But, it was this same self-talk that made it even harder to complete the goals that I had set for myself.
As a society, I think that we talk a lot about the value of compassion and kindness, but very rarely is this kindness applied towards our own selves. The prevalence of burnout reveals that many people feel obligated to dedicate their entire beings to their role as an employee or student. However, you cannot grow as a person if you are constantly forfeiting your own health for a company, for your classes, or for an extra-curricular activity.
[bf_image id="5gtjg5894gf4wz9rf3kgb4fm"] By embracing kindness towards ourselves, and being more gentle in how we talk to ourselves, we can begin to address some of the systemic problems with workplace burnout and burnout from over-involvement.
I do not have all the solutions to these problems, and some of these personal issues are ones that I am still working on, but I do think that the world would be a better place if we were all a little kinder to one another and to ourselves.