Don’t forget to prioritize things that make you happy

There is a cult of stress at IU. 

One of the most common conversation topics in any group of IU students, graduate or undergraduate, is the enormity of the stress that weighs down on most students during the school year. Between coursework, extracurricular involvement and employment — many IU students can’t afford to go to school without a part-time job — most IU students have a lot on their plates. That can be a good thing. Some IU students accomplish an astonishing amount during their time here.

But of course, the downside is the stress, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy that this sort of lifestyle and social environment can foster. I have seen far too many of my classmates drown in their work and become deeply unhappy. 

There are solutions to that, such as IU’s Counseling and Psychological Services, which offers counseling in English, Mandarin and Spanish. Almost everybody has times in their lives when seeing a mental health professional is a good idea. Don’t hesitate to go.

But aside from that, I want to challenge myself and my classmates, as well as IU faculty and staff, to consciously maintain a to-do list that includes things we get fulfillment from, not just superficial achievements like getting good grades and earning money. 

I don’t want to imply that IU’s “cult of stress” is purely a choice for its adherents. Many students can’t help the fact that their schedules are so busy. However, I do think that there are deliberate practices we can all adopt to prevent ourselves from forgetting what’s important in life.

I tend to consciously prioritize social life and relaxation alongside school and work. As a rule, no matter how much I have on my plate (and sometimes it does feel like a suffocating amount), I set aside at least 30 minutes or an hour of my day to spend time doing something I don’t have to do.

If I become obsessed with my to-do list, I can get into an unhealthy state of mind in which I think of every social interaction and moment of leisure as a luxury — a distraction from all the work I should be doing. That’s why I’ve started putting those social interactions and moments of leisure on my to-do list.

I might end my night sitting around and talking with my roommates or other friends, or watching something stupid, even when I could devote an extra half hour to an assignment to make it perfect instead of decent. I might sometimes get a lower grade on an assignment than what I could have gotten by sacrificing my time to relax and socialize. That’s OK. The happiness I and those around me get from relaxing is often more important than grades.

As we enter another year of college, or for many of us, our first year of college or graduate school, let’s not forget the people we care about. Let’s not forget our own welfare. You may not be able to give all the time you want to socializing and fun during the school year, but sacrificing those aspects of your life entirely for the sake of accomplishing the most you can is simply not worth it.

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