Are We Too Stressed?

Author: Mackenzie Kelleher

Agency Young Adult Profession Stressed Black 1"

This Halloween season, one of the scariest things you could be might just be a Notre Dame student. October’s hefty load of midterms, projects and papers (oh my!) is a daunting time to say the least. However scary, what matters is that we did it! We survived the first half of the semester, and now, the countdown to Thanksgiving break is ticking for the Notre Dame student body. 

Unfortunately, this forward-thinking appears to be a common mindset among Notre Dame students. Speaking from personal experience, in times of stress, I often find myself thinking: “I just have to get through this week,” which becomes “I just have to make it to Thanksgiving” and, finally, “I just need to make it to the end of the semester.” 

But suddenly, before I know it, that “end” – for which my sleep-deprived, overwhelmed-self earnestly longed for – arrives. Slowly, all the weeks spent stressing on the tenth floor of Hesburgh Library disappear into my distant memory, and I find myself in an odd state of nostalgia, wondering just how the semester went by so fast. 

Looking past the fact that this seems to be a shared experience for Notre Dame students, I dare ask: is this really what our college experience should look like? If we spend each stressful week waiting for the weekend or counting down the days until the next break, how much can we enjoy the present? 

Sophomore Lindsay Barrow commented on this question when she said, “I feel like it is so easy to get stressed to a point where we start to lose our appreciation for the little things, including simply the ability to be at a place like Notre Dame. I don’t ever want to look back and have any regrets.” 

At the end of the day, the academic rigor of Notre Dame is the reason we are all here; it is in the self-motivated nature of Notre Dame students to always strive for greatness, and the opportunity to receive a top-tier education is certainly not taken for granted around here. 

However, there is also an abundance of everyday pressures that come with attending this university, exacerbating the already high stress levels among students. 

“For me, I feel like there is no time to slow down. If I did, everyone around me would be getting ahead,” says Estela Ralston, student in the College of Science. 

We all seem to have this inherent idea that we need to be at the top of our game 100% of the time. It is quite easy to feel this way when surrounded by some of the most intelligent, successful students from around the world. 

“I would say that Notre Dame is definitely more of a collaborative school, rather than competitive,” said Sean Miller, a sophomore studying science-business. “I think that most of the pressure I feel, I put on myself, because it’s easy to look at others and think, ‘Wow, they have it all figured out.’” 

Despite the overall collaborative environment at Notre Dame, there clearly exists some internal competition that inadvertently forces us to compare ourselves to our peers. 

“Oh, you haven’t started applying for internships yet? John from finance already heard back from three companies!” And don’t forget about that girl in your organic chemistry class who got a perfect score on the midterm you just nearly failed…yikes. I think it’s safe to say we all feel the social pressures to be just as involved and successful as the person next to us. 

It is commonly said that Notre Dame has the perfect work-hardplay-hard environment, but to what extent is this really true? I must wonder, is there a better balance that could be found? One that still cultivates a rigorous academic environment but also allows students the latitude to unwind and appreciate the present more? 

Could there possibly be a solution to our seemingly never-ending, all-consuming stress? 

Carissa DiPietro, a graduate student in Dr. Jessica Payne’s Sleep, Stress, & Memory Lab here on campus, thinks so. 

“I think it is a great thing that our students take advantage of so many of the opportunities available to them,” said DiPietro, “but I also worry that the pressure students feel to succeed can lead our students to spread themselves thin and to sacrifice sleep in an effort to get everything done.” 

As a researcher in Dr. Payne’s lab, DiPietro studies how sleep and stress influence human memory and psychological function. She explains that chronic stress can lead to “a number of negative outcomes, both physical and psychological.” 

In an effort to combat such stress among students, what needs to be done? DiPietro emphasizes the importance of taking time to unwind – a concept that may be foreign to our student body. “Getting enough sleep and exercising regularly are two important and powerful stress management techniques,” she said, as well as “social support, [which] is associated with greater resilience in response to stressors.” 

So, my advice to you, Irish students, is this: the next time you find yourself buried in a monstrous amount of assignments, your instinct might be to lock yourself in the library for hours on end, wallowing in stress. Instead, take a moment and step back – go on a walk or surround yourself with friends. By simply slowing down, we can curb our high-stress levels and come to appreciate the value of each and every day we get to spend here at Notre Dame.