We’re all exhausted. After all, we’re college students, right? We’re supposed to be in a never-ending cycle of tired, caffeine-filled days and long, hardworking nights. If you type “tired college kid” into Google, you get dozens of results with titles such as “10 Struggles of the Exhausted College Student” as well as GIFs and memes that “perfectly describe the college experience.” So why are we supposed to be exhausted? And, more importantly, why do we glamorize being exhausted?
Coming into college, you are told that you will be doing a lot more work and a lot more studying, which means that you are going to be tired. Coupled with extracurricular activities and parties, 70 percent of students report being unable to get sufficient sleep. But even before entering college, sleep was not stressed as important. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about how sleep actually acts as an impediment to the dreams of high school students who are supposed to be succeeding academically and socially. Some joke that “sleep is for the weak,” but in reality, it may be the opposite.
But it’s not only sleep. College students, in huge numbers, report feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Why do we glamorize being exhausted? Why is it that every time someone replies that they are busy, another person tries to one-up them? We’re all busy, constantly busy. We joke about our dependency on caffeine to get us through the day. We glamorize all-nighters and shame those who want to sleep. We joke about the unhealthy habits we form in order to get by. I have heard many of my peers “brag” about how they haven’t eaten all day or how they forgot to eat because work and activities come first.
I often joke about how I go to bed extremely early because I need to sleep. If I don’t sleep, I can’t function. If I am up past midnight, I know that I am in for a terrible day the next day (if I don’t get the chance to sleep in). But just because I practice what I consider to be healthy habits, doesn’t mean that I’m immune to the culture of exhaustion.
I spent the whole day doing work one day, and I was sucked into this behavior. I found myself bragging and complaining about doing homework for ten hours, looking for the validation and pity that we as college students so desire. I also pushed my mental and physical abilities to the limit during a day like that, which led to me needing multiple days of relaxation and breaks to get back in the swing of things. This may not be the case for all students, but it demonstrates what a toll school work, in huge amounts, can take on a person.
The bottom line is we have been conditioned to desire for our exhaustion to be recognized. But it’s important for us, as college students, to change the conversation around exhaustion in order to develop healthy habits.
Exhaustion is not a joke. It has real-life effects on one’s mental and physical health. Exhaustion can result even when one attains adequate sleep. Burnout is a real issue that occurs among college students, especially with students who are very involved on campus. Burnout can lead to physical and mental symptoms far beyond yawning and headaches from lack of sleep. Of course, your immune system will suffer due to exhaustion and burnout, but your productivity and grades will also suffer. The exhaustion that you are taught you must have in order to succeed, actually hurts your chances of success.
So why don’t we teach self-care to college students? No one ever taught us how important it is to take care of ourselves, despite the fact that a person who has slept more than eight hours and is able to take the time to practice healthier strategies is far better equipped to handle assignments than a sleep-deprived student.
Our campus has been preaching self-care through Residential Assistants and free programs on campus such as the Sleep Fair and therapy dogs, but this issue must be tackled even before freshmen step on campus. These are only short-term solutions to the problem of exhaustion. The Student Life website for the Paws Program says what it has done to “improve [students’] overall well-being.” But this program is not a long-term solution. Having dogs come in twice a semester (an event I do thoroughly enjoy) is not going to cure the stress and lack of self-care plaguing UMass students.
So what needs to change? The culture surrounding college exhaustion. A culture of working hard and pushing and pushing until you have nothing left is not what we should be striving for. We should not be comparing and contrasting how overworked and exhausted we are. Exhaustion is not a joke and should not be treated as such. One can preach self-care over and over, but self-care will not be useful until this harmful cycle of exhaustion and stress is overcome and students are properly prepared to handle their sleep, stress and work in a college environment.
Emilia Beuger is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ebeuger.