This article was guest authored by Sarah Ramos (’24).
I want you to take a step back for a moment. Stop what you’re doing, breathe, and reflect on your actions this week. When was the last time you went on a walk, took a shower, or got at least 8 hours of sleep in a night? Can you even remember? How about spending time on a hobby without the stress of homework looming over your head, or going one week without feeling overwhelmed and worried about school?
I’m betting that many of you reading this struggled with at least one of those, which is the unfortunate reality of life at IMSA. Everywhere you look, there are people flaunting poor habits, as if it’s worth some sort of prize: “You got 7 hours of sleep yesterday? Wow, I only got 4.” To others, these behaviors are accepted, normal even, as they casually talk about skipping lunch to finish work or studying for hours at a time without breaks. But, it’s okay! Everyone else is doing it, and it’ll just be this once…right?
Although you reassure yourself that forfeiting your health for grades is what’s best, that “one time” turns into two, then five, then before you know it your entire life has become school. You barely sleep, rarely eat, and can’t think of the last time you did something fun that didn’t have to do with school. The way that IMSA is structured makes it very easy for students to get stuck in this never ending cycle. For many, IMSA is the first time experiencing living away from home, which comes with a multitude of other responsibilities such as managing your own time, taking care of your hygiene, making sure you eat enough and the right foods, as well as creating and sticking to a healthy sleep schedule. It’s definitely a huge adjustment, and unfortunately, we don’t receive much guidance on navigating these new changes from the adults around us.
IMSA’s different curriculums and styles of teaching are a separate obstacle to tackle. Classes cram a year’s worth of content into a semester, so students must learn to synthesize more information at a faster pace to meet a higher set of expectations. Those who aren’t fortunate enough to adapt quickly may find themselves quickly falling behind and struggling to catch back up, as work piles upon each other and that email asking a teacher for an extension seems too intimidating to send. Furthermore, when work becomes overwhelming or confusing, a lot of people find asking for help to be difficult, scary, or uncomfortable, which only exacerbates their feelings of frustration and hopelessness when they have a hard time doing it on their own.
Navigating newfound independence, competing to meet towering expectations, grappling with mountains of work and dealing with the effects of the COVID pandemic, all while having to manage your own time, is a lot to handle. So much so, that most students find it extremely difficult to find a balance between them, often leading to them prioritizing other commitments over their mental and physical wellbeing.
So, what can we do? Is it even possible to take care of your mental health at IMSA?
I think it is.
One way to help is to use the buddy system. I know it seems scary, but confiding in someone you trust will go a long way. Make small changes in your routine, like going to bed 10 minutes earlier or working on a hobby for 15 minutes a day, and have that person hold you accountable and check in on you. You can achieve your goals with your friends without telling them about your personal life too! If you want to get healthier, ask someone to be your gym partner, or invite a friend to dinner. But, most importantly, take the time to do the things that you enjoy. Even if it’s just going on that five minute walk, talking to friends, or watching an episode of that show you like, give yourself some grace. Small breaks will not harm your grades—they’ll likely help you focus better if spaced out throughout your designated work time. However, if you’ve already resigned yourself to skimming till the end, I hope you at least come away from this article thinking about the ways you can be kinder to yourself these next few weeks to improve your mental health.