“I have a bunch of work and assignments due soon. I guess I’ll go through another week without sleep. Who cares if I barely sleep 4 hours a night. I’m stressed out so much. All I want to do is just sleep but I can’t.”
This is the typical response I would give to anyone who would ask how I was doing. Recently, one of my undergraduate students told me they slept at 4 AM for the past week to finish their assignments. After asking why she put herself in that position, she responded for the college degree to have a better future. Though I worried about her and many other students in my class, I can relate to them. I worked for the UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services from 8 PM to 5 AM for four nights a week on average for four years. Throughout my time here, I have met both some of the most ambitious people and some of the most toxic people. Though there were several times where I wanted to leave, I couldn’t because I was obsessed with the “large” paychecks I received for working nearly 35 hours a week on average. I sacrificed my physical health, academics, social life, and family time for temporary “wealth.” I put my body through harsh conditions just to make financial gains.
Growing up, I was unfamiliar with the concept of self-care or mental health. I just knew I had work that needed to be done and had no time to get my health checked. As a college student, you are expected to maintain your academic rigor, standards, and responsibilities in control at all times. However, it can be overwhelming at times to juggle multiple things going on in your academic, professional, and personal life all at once. Last month, I was in the process of applying to several doctoral graduate programs. However, my anxiety and fear of failure rose up as I stressed out about my application statuses to the Ph.D. programs, submitting my assignments and research papers on time, and fulfilling my responsibilities as a full-time employee. This was a crucial moment in my life and I denied any help to seem like I had everything under control. Thankfully, my supportive friends reminded me to eat and sleep when necessary. I learned one important lesson as a graduate student: your mental health is also part of your wealth.
Why do you need to take care of your mental health if you aren’t physically sick? Why waste time on the “check engine” light if your car is still running? You notice it but don’t put much attention to it. We want to be in the best condition possible in physical and psychological well-being. Even I have to remind myself to take care of my emotional, psychological, and social well-being because you could put your health & wellness in jeopardy of chronic exposure to stress and physiological consequences. You could accrue allostatic load (AL), which is the accumulation of stress and pressures on the physiological dysregulation of the human body (Gallo, 2011). In other words, it is the “wear and tear” on your body from all the long-term stress you continue to carry on your shoulders without relaxing or releasing the stress.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, refill your gas (energy) tank, and/or reward yourself when needed. Now, I make sure to have two nights off per week where I don’t prioritize my assignments but go out to watch a movie or go out for dinner instead. My friends and I sporadically hosts BBQs and karaoke nights. We recently joined the Texas Latin Dance to learn new dance moves every week. I try not to bring work home because I want to actually relax at home and not make it feel like a classroom environment. Take care of yourself before you take care of the world.
As final exams approach, remind yourself to take deep breaths. Find your support system so you know where to go when you need it. Though there are certain situations you cannot control, you can control your reaction to them. Don’t be afraid to check-up on your friends either. I still communicate with several friends from California who call and check-up on my sporadically. Show your family and friends appreciation and gratitude whenever you can. They will highly appreciate and it might be the source they require to refill their gas (energy) tank. Words of affirmation and encouragement can change a person’s attitude toward life. It is not worth putting up with all your challenges and obstacles in your social, professional, and academic environment if it means sacrificing your health. Mental health is a real virtue of life.