Many students at UC Berkeley use the mantra “work hard, play hard” to get through midterms and finals. In efforts to perform well in academics while maintaining a “normal” social life, students resort to unhealthy cycles of exhaustive studying and distractions to numb themselves from the emptiness and disappointment they may feel during these difficult times.
As I walk down Telegraph and College Avenue, I am reminded of how local dispensaries and bars heavily profit over vulnerable students who may need comfort. Some of my peers experience withdrawal and have trouble functioning in their day-to-day lives without weed or alcohol. I am disheartened to see students at a campus so large, vivid and diverse turn towards these substances rather than to each other.
I’ve noticed that the U.S. education system prides itself on developing students who employ hard work and self-control to make it to the top. Ironically, many of these students are the ones who are struggling the most. Most of us have a tendency to run away from our feelings instead of leaning into them. The idolization of success creates a false sense of happiness and a true sense of emptiness that leads us to engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Self-destructive behaviors manifest themselves in ways that are complex and unique to the individual. Random hookups are very common for students seeking validation as a result of personal dissatisfaction from school. Students are so busy studying and developing their careers that they do not have time to form real and genuine relationships. There are also those who just want to get “black-out drunk” as a method of going all-in to forget the discomforts they face from exams and job applications. Let’s not forget those who find themselves in a lonesome hole of suicidal thoughts and self-harm when nothing else seems to mend the pain.
For me, I would find myself spending entire weekdays working out physics problems, barely getting any sunlight or movement. When Saturday nights rolled around, I would go all out and engage in risky, irrational behavior, which left me even more miserable in the days leading after. I would need to recover from these distractive nights, often sleeping past noon and feeling sick. This would only set me more behind in my lectures in assignments, and then the cycle begins again.
These are experiences that provide a momentary “high” for us when we want to feel anything but stress. Temptations from accessibility and peer pressure make these self-destructive behaviors easier to indulge in. We must remind ourselves that there are consequences to these self-destructive tendencies and that there are alternative ways to manage the stress we experience from midterms and finals.
So, what can we do? Invest in a support group that encourages self-reflection and person-to-person bonding. Find hobbies that bring peace and healthy distraction. Get active and sweat out any stressors from the day. Seek professional help. Externalize your emotions and get real with yourself.
Midterms are not going anywhere. They will most definitely continue to be challenging and stressful, but the ways in which we handle these challenges are up to us. Even when we feel disappointed in ourselves, we must continue to grant love and compassion to ourselves for all of the hard work and dedication we devote to doing well in our midterms.