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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Make Your Mental Health Matter

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As I walk around campus, I often think to myself that I couldn’t have picked a better school. Many people I have met express a love of learning that equals, if not exceeds, my own. I have always loved school and learning; anything academic became my ‘thing.’

I was a curious, bookish child, more likely to be caught with my nose in a book than almost anything else. My teachers saw my adoration of books and writing and fostered those passions in me. I read multiple books off of the suggested reading lists, wanted my essays to be long and interesting, and never thought of homework as optional.

While part of me was always inclined to love learning, once I realized that there was a point system attached to learning, something changed. Learning no longer became the point. The points became the point. I remember being devastated when I got a C on a composition in eighth grade. Eighth grade, people. I thought my teacher would think I was such a disappointment, that I didn’t learn anything from that essay, and as far as I was concerned, this was the end of the world for me. But that’s not what learning should feel like. What I didn’t realize for a long time was that your grades don’t define your identity, the fact that you learn from your studies is much more important.

Learning is good, yes. I was glad my teachers had always encouraged me, and I was happy to find that high marks followed their encouragement. Grades were especially important to me because I thought they were the one thing I had to offer the world; I tried and failed my hand at soccer, basketball, and swimming. I wasn’t really artistically or theatrically inclined. I wasn’t super social or extroverted. I was in choir, but definitely not a soloist. Sure, I tried all of these things, but I didn’t excel in them. I studied a lot, and homework became my escape and easy excuse to avoid other problems in my life. It was so much easier to learn about photosynthesis or read and analyze the themes in The Outsiders than to interact with the real world, which often times felt overwhelming and uncertain.

Things get left at the wayside when you doggedly pursue one goal. For me, that goal was academics. For others, it was the quest to be popular, or their dedication to take their sports team, or to be the best orchestra or theater kid known to man. A one-track life can start to feel like running around a hamster wheel; you can look around and ask, “How did I get here?” but you feel like you can’t get off.

In whatever you pursue, however you live your life, whether that be one goal or twenty, don’t let mental health be something that gets left at the wayside. I’ve heard it said of Carleton that you can have success in academics, in social life, or sleep. You can have two of those three, but not all. That’s how it felt for most of my academic career, but that’s not a healthy way to approach life.

That thought process usually leads me into more stress than success. I often work myself up into what I call a ‘stress tornado,’ and there are different levels to this tornado. Levels 1-3, I can manage. There’s laughter and poking fun at my workload and stress. But once levels 4-5 hit, I feel really awful. I might laugh-cry about what I have to do and how little time there is to get it done as my workload seems to be just a really funny yet tragic cosmic joke (my roommate can attest to this phenomenon), or I might just push myself to do unreasonable things, sacrificing sleep or other activities so I feel like I can perfectly complete my homework ‘to-do’ list.

I often make “to-do” lists that are too long and idealistic to get done in the amount of time I have, only compounding my stress and anxiety about homework. Sure, they are useful tools, but I don’t always take the time to see the bigger picture, instead I get stuck on what I didn’t do, rather than what I’ve done. I need to remember, and as my Mom so kindly reminds me via encouraging text messages, that it will all get done. Sometimes I need people to talk me out of the higher levels of stress, other times I just step away. I go get dinner, go to the Rec, or simply get up and refill my water bottle.

We need to recognize when we’re letting mental health fall to the wayside. It’s good to commit yourself to your activities, athletics, and academics, but make sure you are committing to yourself, too. Stop and listen to yourself. If you need to stay in on Friday night to watch Netflix, do it. If you want to go out and dance your stress away, do it. Read a book, scroll through Twitter, call your family, Skype your dogs. Diversify your interests and time to make sure you are taken care of. If you can’t commit a happy, healthy you to what you do, it’ll only hurt you in the long run. Recognize when you enter the stress tornado, and surround yourself with people and tools that can help you through it. Make your mental health matter.

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