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    • Graley Turner ’21 at work in Heath Commons.

Infectious Stress

Graley Turner '20, Campus Contributer
I’m sitting in the hallway in the basement of Thompson and I’m about to have an anxiety attack.
This is not an uncommon occurence in my life, trying not to cry or freak out while I’m in public. And as I open up to more people about the anxiety in my life, I realize that I’m not the only one. Most people, in fact, have experienced this feeling. And it’s most prevalent in my fellow students at Hopkins.

Which begs the question: what is it about Hopkins that makes us so stressed? Or better yet, what is it about school?

I had a friend ask me that a couple of weeks ago, as we were sitting in her car, finishing the last of our Starbucks drinks. And I knew the exact answer: everything. I mean, think about it: it is everything stacked on top of everything else that makes us so stressed.

For one, most of us are not in the best physical shape during the school day. We have to wake up early and go to bed at horribly late hours due to homework, and yet, we’re still expected to get between six and eight hours of sleep. This directly goes against our biology as teenagers; we’re supposed to go to sleep late and wake up late, but school doesn’t exactly allow us to directly follow this. I imagine that several of us are too exhausted at eight in the morning and hungry after an insubstantial breakfast and still overwhelmed from the day before. You can see, we’re not off to a very good start.

Next, there’s the fact that we are around each other all the time while in school. Now, I don’t know about everyone else, but the fact that everyone else is around me with their... presence is enough to send me into a anxiety attack. And combine that with the noise everyone else makes all the time, not to mention the deafening sound of the heaters or air conditioners and the fans and the heels of teachers and students click-clacking down the hallway and up the stairs and just... everything. Yeah, there’s a whole lot of stimuli. It’s no wonder most of us are at the end of our ropes.

And then, of course, there’s the biggest factor: the competition. Have you noticed how it feels like we’re always in a constant competition: for smartest student, fastest athlete, most artistic, best grade on a term paper, best grade on a math test, best friend, best anything. Most of us are bending over backwards to impress, to be better than the person next to us. It doesn’t matter if that person is a friend or someone you’ve never talked to; you have to be better. And you’re not just competing with the other students; you’re competing with your siblings, your friends, your parents, and most importantly, yourself. I’ve been told that your worst enemy is your own mind, and that is completely true. There’s always a constant pressure to do your best, but then, you can’t help wondering, “What if my best just isn’t good enough?” Stress lies in each of us, but it’s our mind that fosters it and makes it grow to a point that becomes unbearable.

Constantly, we’re struggling with the one thought that plagues us as high school students: “Am I good enough?” We start to care more about that one little question - and the competition that comes with it - rather than the people around us. And when several of us circulate the same negative energy, school becomes a negative place, a stressful place. I’ve had friends grow apart from each other because they’re too busy studying. I’ve seen fights break out and students break down simply because of a difference of grades or the built-up stress that comes from dealing with the school day. This overwhelming stress is infecting us with its self-doubt, its irritated mood swings, its back-breaking pressure to do well, and this stress is making us only continue to spread the negativity that surrounds us all. Stress is not brought on by just one thing; it is a multitude of different factors that stack up one after the other until we reach our breaking point. But we can change this. We can all contribute to our community in order to make this a less stressed setting. We can take care of ourselves at home by attempting to get more sleep. We can find ways to decrease the stimuli all around us, or at least block them out. And we can all treat each other with more kindness, foster connections with each other, and focus more on our friends than our grades.

I don’t want to be sitting in the basement of Thompson, about to have an anxiety attack. Perhaps, one day, we’ll be able to change that.
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