Editorial: Deconstructing Stress Culture
By The Gettysburgian Editorial Board
A recent Gettysburgian editorial board meeting opened in a traditional fashion: “How’s everybody doing?”
We all gave a reflexive “Okay,” but, after a moment of silence, it became clear that the answer to which we are all well-accustomed was not apt. Actually, folks were not “okay.”
Anxiety is in the air, and it is hard to avoid. At this point in the semester, the library, in particular, serves as a breeding ground for toxic conversations and rampant stress culture. Some of the fragmented sentences you hear when you start to listen can be pretty unsettling.
“I didn’t sleep last night.”
“I haven’t eaten today.”
“I just have to push through this.”
And what’s more, some people seem to be oddly competitive about how stressed they are—how little sleep they’ve gotten, for example. The size of the bags under their eyes. How behind they are on their papers. The competitive climate around stress only compounds the pressure that students feel.
Of course, students have plenty of sources of stress: academic, financial, social, the list goes on. We have papers to write, shifts to work, and office hours to get to. But, somehow, students’ perceptions of stress and how they respond to it seem disproportionate to what is being asked of them in the classroom.
While college poses many challenges, are we really being asked to cut sleep, meals, and human interaction? Maybe the contents of the syllabus are not what has students hyper-stressed. Maybe it’s the culture we’ve created.
It seems like students are craving an endorsement on their unhealthy habits. Perhaps the apparent sacrifices they are making validate their efforts.
It’s toxic, and it has to stop.
We shouldn’t be feeding into the culture that validates people for not taking care of themselves and reinforces those same habits across campus.
This race to the bottom culture affects all of us: performative stress impacts the audience as well as the performer. When you tell someone that you don’t have time to eat, it makes them feel guilty for doing so. The truth of the matter is that, as students, deconstructing this culture is within our control. We have three suggestions.
1. Eat meals. With people. At a table that is not in the library or in an academic building. Stop perpetuating the myth that busy, engaged students don’t have time for Servo.
2. Delete your email signature. If someone wanted to see your resume, they would have asked. Long email signatures reinforce the idea that the quantity of things we do indicates our worth. They don’t impress people. They give students the false impression that they are not doing enough.
3. Remove things from your calendar that are keeping you busy for busy’s sake. At Gettysburg, we have a culture of “signing up.” Of course, that is necessary for an engaged campus, but it is also a double-edged sword. It creates a sense of obligation to fill every hour of every day, and that is neither healthy nor sustainable.
Overloading yourself fosters stress, not productivity. The research shows that we are more creative when we have room to breathe. Happiness breeds success, and not the other way around.
As we approach finals week, when the temptation to project stress is at its peak, let’s change the script around performative stress. Let’s lower the threshold for what constitutes “real” stress, and raise the bar on how we take care of ourselves. Let’s spend more time in conversations with the people we care about. Let’s go to Servo.
This editorial reflects the collective opinion of The Gettysburgian’s Editorial Board: Benjamin Pontz ’20 (Editor-in-Chief), Maddie Neiman ’21 (Managing Editor), Lauren Hand ’20 (Print Editor), Anna Cincotta ’21 (Opinions Editor), Garrett Glaeser ’21 (Sports Editor), Phoebe Doscher ’22 (News Editor), Britney Brunache ’22 (Arts & Entertainment Editor), Cam D’Amica ’22 (Features Editor), Kailey White ’21 (Visual Editor), Mary Frasier ’21 (Director of Photography) & Samantha Hann ’21 (Public Relations Manager).
This article originally appeared on page 12 of the December 6, 2019 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.