I know this may be hard to hear, but bear with me. Right now, you may be thinking of all the things you have to do: paying the bills, working at your internship, submitting an assignment or just cooking dinner. You’re probably exhausted, having spent long days trying to cram in as many activities as possible, whether they’re resume padders or GPA boosters.
You’re busy. But why does stress culture in college glorify being “busy”?
I hate the word busy, probably because it’s been so overused in my life that I cannot stand to hear it become another person’s excuse. “I’m so sorry I didn’t text back, I’ve just been so busy!” “Oh, I never have time to check social media anymore, I’m way too busy.” “You’re so lucky you have time to start a new TV show, I’m way too busy for that.” It seems that I’m swimming in the “I’m-Too-Busy” excuse ocean, and personally, I am ready to get out.
But why is being “busy” is such a bad thing? Productivity is good, right? It drives our economy, motivates us to manage our time and organize our lives and provides structure and routine. While I agree on all of these counts, being busy in American culture has become more than just a motivational tool to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. It’s become a competition between us and our peers to see who’s going furthest in life, who’s got the least amount of time because they’re just so “busy” doing more important things.
Being “busy” is now a snide remark used to put others down who do have that time, because surely they are not succeeding if they do. We enjoy being stressed and exhausted because it gives us an excuse to show others how productive we are. Even during the pandemic, being on lockdown led to pressure to be more productive with all the newfound time we had at home. The good news is that many individuals (and even companies) began to take a longer, closer look at productivity: without the watchful eyes of our peers and supervisors, we could work at our own pace, and that might affect how we feel about busyness in the future.
It’s hard to make a final judgment as to how the pandemic’s redefining of productivity will extend to universities. Anxiety, stress, and depression have been heightened among college students in recent years, or at least, among students who choose to report and seek help for their mental health. This is no doubt exacerbated by college stress culture: academic burnout is on many college students’ minds, and many have taken to their university newspapers to decry how students partake in stress culture, like at UC Berkeley and William Jewell College. In 2013, the Carnegie Mellon Community Think Tank interviewed students and found that many of them view their identities as synonymous with their academic achievements. It stands to reason that we also see other students through this lens, too. But we need to stop and think when we start taking pleasure in being stressed and overwhelmed because we think it makes us better than those who are not. There is a reason that being “busy” is exactly that — it’s a state of being, a fluid shape. It is not permanent and was never meant to be.
Productivity is not the only key to success. Healthy social relationships benefit our mental and physical health — as the Journal of Health and Social Behavior reported in 2010, they can even lower our risk of mortality. So take a break from studying or crossing items off your to-do list every once in a while. Check in with your friends, talk through your feelings with them, and make sure that you’re prioritizing happiness and health — because they’re what really matters.
Be busy and flourish, but don’t allow it to consume you and your view on those around you. The I’m-Too-Busy excuse ocean is not a sinkhole and we can allow ourselves to enjoy the waves once in a while.