It’s time that we talk about burnout at Yale. Most of us don’t want to talk honestly about the stress and fatigue we experience, but maybe that’s because we simply don’t know how.
I’m no exception. At the beginning of this year, I had dinner with an upper-level friend, someone who has had more than his fair share of stressful semesters. He asked me how I was planning on avoiding the “sophomore slump,” the famed phenomenon that manifests as something in between lingering self-doubt and an outright existential crisis. I laughed off the question. “I love what I do!” I said. “In fact, I’m planning on doing more of it.” I could not have been more naive.
At Yale, it seems that April is a month of great contradictions. The frigid Connecticut winter finally subsides, and warm weekends beckon with the promise of both sunbathing on Cross Campus and lazy afternoons in college courtyards. Unfortunately, this isn’t what life is like for most Yalies. My senior friends have seen their lives consumed by endless thesis drafts. Even lower-level students walk around campus dazed, over-caffeinated and disheveled.
For me, the past few weeks have passed in a blur of papers and problem sets. It feels like all my waking hours have been spent in class or holed up in the library, with no spare time left to see friends, plan for the summer or simply collect my thoughts. A few days ago, it hit me: I’ve entered the dreaded sophomore slump.
At first, I was confused. After all, I love my classes. This semester, I finally settled on my majors, and all of my courses have been engaging and stimulating. My extracurricular life is just as important to me; I get to make music and debate politics with friends. Publishing my grouchy opinions in the News has been a great perk, too. So the question begs: Where does the slump come from?
Some of the causes of burnout are personal. Yalies are almost universally ambitious, type-A (or rather, type-4.0) students. We love racking up achievements and holding leadership positions in a fruitless race to gain influence on campus and impress our peers. We push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion, until the activities that previously brought us joy are rendered the sources of our unhappiness.
I know that I am guilty of all of this. I often make commitments I know will be difficult to keep and end up worse off. Even during moments that should be special — like concerts — I sometimes cannot help but think about my upcoming exams and assignments. But change can only begin with self-awareness.
Burnout at Yale is also structural. The fact that the sophomore slump is a near-universal phenomenon proves that the University is inherently stressful. Yale supposedly cares about “self-care” (a meaningless and performative term I’ve written about before), but puppies and a sandbox for adults won’t cut it. Yale needs to take real and substantive measures to address its students’ burnout and other struggles with mental health — a radical overhaul of the Yale Health infrastructure, for starters. Moreover, the University can use policies to make students healthier, like expanding the scope of the first-year and sophomore counselor programs, limiting the number of midterms in any individual class and devoting resources towards supporting first-generation and low-income students. Many of the University’s top administrators are psychologists; surely they understand the necessity of making Yale a healthier place for all of us.
Despite my case of the April blues, I have found a few ways of adjusting my mindset. Exercise helps, as does taking a few minutes each day to enjoy the fresh air (without rushing off to class). On the weekends, I try to find a few hours to spend time with friends, who help keep me centered. As I walk across campus, I try to appreciate its beauty and the natural joys of spring at Yale. Despite its shortcomings, we are all lucky to live and learn on a beautiful New England campus. Spend time outside of the library, and enjoy it.
Isaiah Schrader is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .