Ask the average Yalie during midterms how she’s doing and the answer you’ll get will often take the form of wishful escapism or stoic submissiveness. They’ll talk about the next time the metaphorical treadmill will be turned off for a bit, the next Fall Break or the next weekend when they’ll be freed from papers and psets. Most of the time the person is actually us, shuffling to classes on Science Hill or in Loria, grabbing a desperate nap during a break, curling up into a ball on our beds. The assignment you have due is like a temporal cage enclosing you within the next two or five days, your soul struggling against the metal bars whose shadows lay across your Google calendar. You are bored with the work you’ve got, or are simply too exhausted to think.
I think everyone recognizes in the abstract that stress can be a good thing, although it’s mostly a bad thing. The pressure to succeed can galvanize us to action, make us push ourselves when we’d rather leave our residential college library late at night. Stress can be that extra bit of adrenaline, keeping us in the cage instead of flying free so that the future pays its imagined dividends. But positive stress can also bring along its evil twin — anxious and fearful stress — and result in tunnel vision that makes us worry whether things will really be all right. The present is too painful, so we pine for the next reprieve.
And yet, I think almost anyone at Yale can appreciate that in the abstract we’ve all individually struck gold. So many others would love to be in our position, not only as full-time college students who are studying the arts and sciences but also as students at Yale, a storied place of illustrious creativity. Even students who are critical of Yale mostly stay on for the ride. We endured hard work to get here and wouldn’t give up the experiences we’ve gained. So how come we let stress derail that appreciation?
Often the ball is slow to get rolling because our negative emotions make it more difficult to think straight. The pit we’ve deposited ourselves into is lined with sticky habits that make climbing toward the light a painstaking affair. But slowly, the cracks in our worldview start appearing, and we begin to see our lives for what they really are: filled with surpassing and challenging beauty. We need to keep seizing the down time in our lives to exercise our emotional muscles, so that we can gradually see ourselves from an outsider’s perspective. This process involves realizing that our lives do reflect what we dreamed about: studying in a stimulating environment with talented peers and professors around us.
When we’ve graduated, things will only get more difficult, as we deal with the stress of providing for a family or holding down a job. If we can’t figure out how to be happy at Yale, how will we happy anywhere else? The trick is to build a baseline contentment into ourselves that reminds us that everything will be okay.
The worries that consume so much of our present energy will, one year from now, be relegated to the unimportant memory bin of our lives — exactly where the stresses from last year’s midterms are now stashed. If we take the time to connect with ourselves, our friends and our environment, we will begin to mitigate the negative externalities of stress and anxiety that hamper our jam-packed collegiate lives.
Ezriel Gelbfish is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .