Guest column by Claire Treu, sophomore English and peace studies major
Stress is often like Regina George.
From the movie “Mean Girls,” the character of Regina George is the popular, attractive and controlling bully most of us know from high school. We hate her, and yet, we glamorize her.
In a similar way, stress in college has become Regina George. Romanticizing itself to resemble beauty and success, stress hides its real motives of manipulation and defeat. Even worse, we fall for the act.
Glamorized stress is the false view of unhealthy habits – like minimal sleep, and a lack of exercise and free time – as normal aspects of life. This is embedded in a culture we live in that wrongly associates stress with a strong work ethic and long-term success.
Stress is normal for students, and it controls the way we live our social lives.
As college students, we are desperate for achievement, which makes us vulnerable to the belief that stress means success. Through this belief, unhealthy competition affects students, who inadvertently compete to be more stressed than those around them. People are willing to push past their physical limits to prove tireless work, and quality and happiness are forgotten as priorities.
An ignorance toward damaging social situations – like bragging to our peers about all-nighters or viewing our busy schedule as more valuable than those with free time – legitimizes stress as a valuable part of competition. We cannot allow ourselves to give stress the power to add value to life.
On social media, the hashtag #stressed has become all too common. Whether it be Snapchatting late study nights or posting sour Facebook updates about a terrible day, we normalize these unhealthy habits through the reinforcement of likes and comments. When we post these things on social media, we boast our “commitment” to working the hard and long hours that are “necessary” for success. In reality, we create more stress, and we damage our confidence.
“There are negative relationships between social media use and academic performance, as well as with academic self-efficacy beliefs. Academic self-efficacy beliefs mediate the negative relationship between social media use and satisfaction with life,” according to experts of information systems, Martin Hassle and Mary Sukalich, in the Information Research: An International Electronic Journal.
This is not to discredit the hard work and late nights that are customary for college students, but when we normalize this behavior online or in social situations, it becomes less about hard work and all about the recognition. We are tricked into an addictive competition with our peers for the most coffee cups consumed or least number of hours slept, because this is what we think it takes to be successful.
Lost in stress, our identities become not who we are, but instead what we have done. As students, we become disconnected from our hearts and compassion. Our creative inner selves are stripped away and replaced with false promises of success.
Students trade themselves and their health for grades and resumes because our social world has falsely convinced us that long-term success means trading joy for stress.
Treating our social lives like a Regina George “Burn Book” to talk about stress is toxic. Instead of glamorizing stress, we should focus on awareness of what it really is. Refusing to embrace stress as a normality in life leaves students the time and energy to positively create and learn through the resources at our fingertips. Isn’t that what college is all about?