Though I already knew how to tell time before I graduated high school, my parents like to remind me that there are only 24 hours in a day, and as finals loom over the horizon, it almost seems as if there are fewer than that.
The clock seems to tick faster, and under-eye bags become increasingly common among sleep-deprived scholars. There only seems to be so much time to wade through thick chapters of coursework, and students turn to willpower, caffeine and other questionable resorts to stretch their hours in the stacks.
How do we reach such a deplorable state? When a letter grade rests on the line, it is easy to succumb to tunnel vision.
Apparent necessities like rest, nutrition, well-being—perhaps even cleanliness—are suddenly put on the back burner when desperation takes over. We begin to feel guilty taking an extra cat nap or spending too much time in the dining hall, wondering if we’ll come to regret our poor time budgeting later on in the night. Showers and deodorant suddenly don’t seem so important in the face of an 8 a.m. exam the next morning, though neighbors might disagree.
But how much of the time we chip away is really spent wisely? How much of it is spent on cat videos and Tonight Show reruns used to put off our unavoidable work? Cutting from activities that are required to maintain our health and sanity is neither sustainable nor effective. In a nation where over 80 percent of students on college campuses claim to experience stress on a daily basis (according to a 2008 survey by the Associated Press), we clearly need to rethink the way we solve problems and manage our time.
One nasty side effect of this whatever-it-takes mentality is the increasing abuse of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) stimulants, like Adderall or Ritalin, on college campuses. These prescription medications meant for individuals suffering from narcolepsy or ADHD have now assumed the glamorous guise of super study drugs that will instantly focus our minds and jack up our efficiency. This appeal has led to high rates of abuse on college campuses; in a 2012 New York Times article, students attested that Adderall had become a regular part of their lives and was popularly dealt in schools.
According to a rigorous study conducted between 2005 and 2006 at an unnamed southeastern public university, 34 percent of participants reported abusing ADHD drugs. This incredible statistic epitomizes how willing students are to trade off their health with short-term returns.
Without even considering the ethical considerations of such abuse (because how fair can a class curve be when a third of your peers use performance enhancing substances?), these students were all putting themselves at risk for insomnia, headaches and drug dependence.
Besides the damage prescription medicine can wreak on our bodies, stress itself lowers quality of life and learning. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can cause muscle pain, fatigue and upset stomachs, as well as irritability and changes in appetite. So not only could we study ourselves sick during exams, we could become Scrooge and tick off a lot of people. That must really spark our love for learning.
Thus, before diving into the dark clutches of finals week desperation, we might want to step back and take a breather. Setting up a realistic and focused study plan ahead of time, and actually following it, might eliminate last-minute hassles and heart attacks that call for desperate measures.
Even if stumbling blocks do appear—a challenging concept, a tech problem, or missing notes—we must prevent ourselves from falling into utter panic, which is completely unproductive and can be more time-consuming than the actual problem. The British didn’t beat the blitzkrieg by complaining to their neighbors how they “just couldn’t even,” just as we won’t defeat our exams unless we keep calm and carry on.
I know in the back of my mind that pacing myself is much easier said than done, as someone who has done her share of all-nighters. As young students living in an increasingly fast-paced world, it’s against our nature to slow down.
But if we continue to race on without making pit stops for ourselves, the risk of damage increases. Perhaps, instead of continually creating ways to stretch our limits, we should learn to respect them before we burn out.
Jackie Yang is a freshman majoring in neuroscience.