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ISSUE 121 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/25/2008

Stress hampers well-being

By Kelin Loe
Opinion Editor

Friday, April 25, 2008

You have taken part in this conversation: Student A says, "I just have so much with choir and work, not to mention my classes." Student A brings a third Diet Coke to her lips. Student B brings coffee grounds to their nose, snorts them and replies, "Well, at least you still sleep at night. After classes I have lab, and then&." Student B proceeds to supply their entire schedule, consisting of the meetings of a religious group, an environmental group, a choir, a political group and three or four SGA committees. Whether you were Student A, Student B or an eavesdropping Student C repressing the urge to shout, "If you think that's bad," or if you're Student C's Caf date thinking "Man, I don't do nearly enough if they can do all that and still have all their skin," one truth is evident: somebody needs to quit something -- and soon.

One day two years ago, over a lingering caf dinner, a friend and I stumbled across the St. Olaf admission philosophy. We were both relating our high school transcripts, wondering how it is we actually got in here. My GPA wasn't sizzling, and my test scores are laughable. (I'd slept through two sections of the SAT, always intending to retake it.) But my list of extra-curricular activities and leadership roles was longer than the SAT itself. She had a list to rival mine. We realized then -- perhaps admissions builds a first-year class of over-involved high school students.

How else would we sustain a campus so focused on community? The St. Olaf engine runs off the sweat squeezed from the foreheads of stressed students. Bon Appetit pumps the energy of the over-involved through their water spigots, through their Diet Coke dispensers and espresso machines.

Not only does St. Olaf breed a culture of curriculars, but also a culture of modesty. The false Minnesota nice causes a self-sacrificing trend. The hapless student believes they can take on more than the day allows, figuring they'll find salvation in nighttime hours.

Schedules go up on bulletin boards with more coded colors than a checkered rainbow on LSD. Once lullabies become to-do lists, around the end of September, the fabled Olaf competition arises. Which pod member has the most hectic schedule? Which sextet mate keeps the latest hours? Which roommate has the closest GPA-to-activity ratio?

This competition is not an academic competition, nor is it one of wealth or athleticism. This competition pits one self-sacrificer against the other. Because the ideal Ole is the blonde that balances faith and classes and curriculars and career, the aspiring student should not let on that they're flailing and failing. Therefore students repress the stress until it crawls out in conversations like "at least you&" or "if you think that's bad&." Comparing hours of sleep is a common topic, as are to-do lists and daily schedules. The St. Olaf graduate will leave campus, planner in hand, ready to commit to the committees of the real world.

I am a classic victim of this mentality. I over-library myself. And my health has caught up with me more than once because of it. October of my senior year, I again had a realization. By taking on too much, I hurt the campus community more than I added to it. I wasted the true potential of my leadership project. By committing to only a small fraction of passion to a project, I only accomplished bits of what I'd intended. Not only did I let myself down, I limited someone else's chances to do great things with the project. Thus, not only does the campus suffer my stress -- no matter how much I try to internalize -- it also suffers a lagging project.

Why not shed the responsibilities to our relief players? There are always underclassmen snapping their jaws at a dangling leadership opportunity -- I know; I was that first-year. And new classes come in every fall, grappling for the opportunity to chair a committee.

I know nobody can complete the project better than you can. But, ask yourself honestly, how much attention are you actually giving this project right now? If one of those kids watching Oprah in the afternoon took over, would they have more energy to give to the project? You know the answer. But here is the most important question: What would freeing up that time give you? Releasing that nagging obligation, or even releasing an obligation that means a lot to you, can give you the time to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Heavy caffeine is hard on your brain; it instigates anxiety symptoms. If you don't get three R.E.M. cycles, you won't remember what you learned the previous day. This overcommitted mentality produces the festering feelings of anxiety and fatigue. If it's not vital, drop it. Just drop it.

St. Olaf could function as a much healthier community if students allocated their passion according to their actual stamina. Granted, as a sophomore, I was still testing different passions, fitting them like prom dresses. As we grow into ourselves, we should remember that we don't need to buy all the reject dresses. Let St. Olaf re-rack and sell that project to the next student.

If you are only doing it for a résumé -- quit. If you are only doing it for a friend -- quit. If you are only doing it because you think you should (not because you know you should) -- quit. If the project isn't your heart and soul -- quit. Take opportunities to figure out what you want to do. If you know it's not for you, just quit.

Opinions Editor Kelin Loe '08 is from Highlands Ranch, Colo. She majors in English and Asian studies with a concentration in China studies.

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