This article is guest authored by Sukanya Ghosh (’24).
An impromptu stress mod. Taking a mental health day. Skipping class. Anything to escape the pressures of a relentless and punishing academic rigor that emerges from the eight-mod packed schedules of some, or the extracurricular investments of others. Sometimes, amidst the tiresome conditions of the IMSA academia, the title of an “academic machine” seems to be more fitting for the grueling continuum of our lives rather than our own egos. But where can the onset of deteriorating stress management struggles, otherwise known as burnout, be rooted back to?
Communication. The word is dreaded by many and, let’s be honest, lacking in many of our student-run clubs at IMSA. But, we all crave it. The need to know what is happening in the lives of your closest friends or the simple ask to be informed on club meeting times and other important information. When we grow accustomed to overcommunication from our lovely friend, “Students-L”, or clear communication from teacher announcements on Canvas, we tend to desire that same level of organized interaction from the various types of leaders in our lives. “Clubs that are run with poor communication stress everyone on the team out,” says an IMSA student, who participates in a variety of extracurriculars.
Perhaps you sometimes fall victim to the absent club president— which, in that case, is by no means a public tarnishing of your reputation. We’ve all been there. What many team members don’t realize is that such lack of clear and consistent communication is often a product of overwhelming mental health situations and the challenges that come with managing a group of people, rather than just the chaotic schedule of one. The leader of an IMSA co-curricular speaks on their experience with communication, relaying that “oftentimes, when I am too busy with other commitments or I’ve overcommitted myself, I tend to shy away from messaging my team group chats.” The narrative suddenly becomes clearer to us. We are constantly occupied with life and work, with stressors creeping in the back of our minds, and by the time that big deadline rolls around, you are too overwhelmed to even mention anything. Instead, we let things sit idle until someone musters the will to say anything.
So, how can we approach the issue of internal and external communication to preemptively better our own stressful lives? A study by the Pennsylvania State University defines effective communication as a “set of skills including nonverbal communication, engaged listening, managing stress in the moment, the ability to communicate assertively, and the capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions and those of the person you’re communicating with.” There are many essential elements in this list that are directly tied to mental health stressors and a variety of strategies can be used to improve our own communication skills.
Being proactive with your mental health.
Certain organizational skills and responsibility come with being able to predict how busy your academic schedules may be in the upcoming days or weeks, however doing so can save you a lot of avoidable last-minute stress. This can be accomplished through the simple, proactive task of writing yourself, what I call, the “Catch All Note.” A short note about the stress, anxiety, or simply just the “tough IMSA life” you may be facing in a moment of need, and thus why you unable to do something, can be sent to your club leader, teacher, or whomever it may be, in times where communication may seem like a tiresome and daunting task. Copying and pasting a pre-written note into Messenger can spare you the time of fabricating an excuse as to why you are unable to attend the meeting as well as the stressful accountability that it may come with. Mental health is never an excuse, always a reason.
Lead and listen with empathy.
Whether you are a club president or avid team member, it is essential that you are able to lead and listen with empathy. Understanding the emotions of who you are communicating with is an important step to avoiding misinterpretations within a group setting or one-one relationship. This begins with acknowledging that mental health stressors are bound to impact a majority of IMSA students and that everyone is owed the room for a break. Instead of engaging with accusatory mindsets, the prioritization of clear communication and group empathy improves team collaboration and increases productivity.
The idea of the Big C is oftentimes misconstrued to be a soft skill to display on your resume or something that can make or break a romantic relationship. The reality is how and when we communicate with others often drives our mental health spectrums and can be used as an effective tool to manage stress levels and burnout intensity. Be it, “do as you say” or “say as you do,” let communication be the way you focus on you.