Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What We’re All Coming Down With
By Julie Buntin

Mondays are my busy days. Typically, I get up at around 8 a.m., leave my apartment by 9:30 and make it to class by 10:15. That is followed by another two classes separated only by ten minute breaks, catch the cross town bus to work, zip back across town for a night class, and make it home by 10 p.m. if I’m lucky, ready to face the list of homework that my syllabi has so kindly laid out for me. To bed by one or two, and the next day, I do it all again, only I’m up about an hour later.

My schedule, which leaves little time for meals on weekdays, is nothing compared to one of my roommate’s. She wakes up at a quarter to six every morning and gets home around ten every night from her part-time job at the Container Store, eats a frozen dinner, and studies until she goes to bed. I wish I could say I was exaggerating, even a little, but unfortunately, for college students in New York City this picture is pretty standard.

It’s no secret that life here is more hectic than anywhere else. For college students, I would venture to say that studying in New York City doesn’t provide a transition period; it’s a full-blown immersion in adult life. Unless you are rich enough (or your parents are) to survive without at least a part-time job, most of us juggle school and work and mass transit commutes with the more pleasant aspects of college life. Parties are rare, and relationships (at least in my experience) seem more volatile.

According to the University of Florida Counseling Center, high levels of stress can cause a variety of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms that resemble illness. Muscular tension, fatigue, backaches, headaches, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and anxiety are among those listed. One of the symptoms, difficulty sleeping, is something I’m very familiar with. After long, break-neck days why is it I lay in bed for hours before falling asleep, only to do so just as the sky outside my window lightens and my alarm clock jars me awake? I’ll tell you why. Stress.

The next evening when my boyfriend calls, I snap at him and hang up five minutes into the conversation. On my way to class, I forget my notebook, or realize I read the wrong chapter or did the wrong assignment. These things don’t happen daily, but they happen often enough to make me worried. So now, on top of everything I have to deal with, I’m worried about my stress.

We were not prepared, my fellow students and I, for what college life really entails. As a kid, I imagined parties and long afternoons flipping through magazines while I ate pizza with my roommates. I envisioned smoky coffee shops and passionate conversations about Camus and 16th Century poetry. The University of Florida research describes four primary sources of stress. These include environmental factors (noise, pollution, and weather), physiological factors (inadequate sleep and nutrition), your thoughts (negative thoughts, repetitive thoughts, and perfectionism), and social stressors (financial problems, work demands, and social events). College life in New York City wallops students with all four of those stressors simultaneously and to the highest degree, which contributes to a loss of the college experience our parents thought was so enjoyable.

Despite being crippled with stress-inflicted illnesses, we can take a stand against stress. Better organizational skills can help bring the world back down to a manageable size, relates the University of Florida Counseling Center, and daily exercise and better nutrition in conjunction with relaxation techniques will all help reduce stress. Lately I’ve been finding the time to jog in the mornings and get in a good fifteen minutes or so of solid quiet time, so hopefully my sleepless nights and moments of panic will soon be things of the past. So try and treat yourself in the midst of overwhelming college life, and you won’t groan so loud when you hear about students at other colleges getting drunk at 10 a.m. during football season, apparently blissfully unstressed.

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