Princeton, as one of the uncontested “best” universities in the world, is renowned for rigor, with the assumption that such difficulty will whip our minds into their intellectual prime. Indeed, the majority of alumni emerge from the University as future world leaders. However, it is crucial to consider the physical implications of the stress Princeton places on us: is such stress necessary for us to succeed? Or is it an abuse of our minds and bodies, ultimately shortening our lifespans?
Princeton ranks No. 6 in the United States for universities with the highest stress rates. Although other factors such as loneliness or depression affect stress levels, academics are a major perpetrator at rigorous institutions. Vast workloads, endless reading, and competing pressures of finding both passion and a career lump together into an insurmountable mountain that often seems impossible to conquer.
Linked with stress, especially given our insurmountable workloads, is a lack of sleep. In fact, one article from Very Well Mind summarizes findings from studies that reveal a link between high levels of stress or anxiety and a shorter lifespan. One of these studies, conducted over a 12-year period by Purdue University, compared a group of men prone to stress and anxiety with a group that was not. By the end of the period, only 50 percent of the men with “high or increasing neuroticism [stress/anxiety prone]” were still alive, whereas nearly 85 percent of the other group was still alive.
Stress, however, is not the only obstacle obstructing our education and well-being. The endless stream of work and applications contributes to our stress and also prevents us from doing things we truly enjoy. When was the last time you read a book for fun? I miss reading that isn’t mandatory, but I don’t have the time or mental capacity to pick up a book that I want to read because of the guilt — the guilt that tells me I have other tasks which will affect my grade or mental health if they are not completed.
I want to do so much, but I feel as if I have no time, or, in the rare circumstances that I do, I have no energy. I want to start playing my cello again, and I want to write letters to friends and family members, and I want to write poetry, and I want to start learning a new language. But the frequency of work from classes, clubs, and other obligations entirely banishes any hope of pursuing these activities. And that’s a significant and scary obstacle to our fulfillment as lifelong learners and dreamers in this world.
Nonetheless, it’s not exactly helpful to state that Princeton students are stressed and that stress is bad. We instead need to find a solution to ensure that each of us can live lives of quality (and longevity). Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) can only do so much, and it doesn’t necessarily target the problem at its source. One thing Princeton students lack is true relaxation. From my own experience, every “break” I’ve had has been overshadowed by a paper or various applications that need to be completed.
Weekends are spent trying to complete enough work to keep my head up during the week. As such, I would like to propose a special day, a mini “intersession” once a month or so. This day would be University-wide, there could be no due dates, and other obligations or mandatory meetings could not be scheduled. A day where nothing needs to be done, and students can feel free to do whatever they wish. The University could host events, from meditation to group trips to New York. Of course, keeping this day work-free would require some intentional effort on the part of students.
Some may argue that intersession after winter exams already takes on this role. However, it is infrequent and insufficient to sustain students through the spring semester. Thus, I believe having at least a temporary respite where students have no due dates could do a lot for the mental health of this campus.
Emma Treadway is a first-year from Amelia, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.