In return for free housing in the beautiful Rogers House, summer live-in staffers at the Bridge do their fair share of answering calls in the middle of the night – and also complete a summer project. Last summer, senior Emma Pierson’12 spent her two months at the Bridge producing an in-depth statistical report on Bridge counsels. She analyzed what students seem to be most concerned about each week, what time of day most of our calls come in and the number of calls fielded by each staff member. One of the most interesting things to come out of her incredible analysis was that during week seven, the Bridge receives 30 percent more calls than during any other week.
Why might this be? Could it be that week seven means more exams, papers, and general stress than any other week? Emma thought the same thing and did a second analysis of when midterms of over twenty randomly selected popular Stanford classes typically occur. It turns out the peak of midterms occurs during weeks five and six, with the number of midterms taken, on average, dropping significantly during week seven.
While the data is a bit noisy and we can’t be sure that this trend represents all undergraduates accurately, my theory is that Stanford students spend weeks five and six of the quarter cramming so much for midterms, studying so hard and obsessing so much about exams and papers, that they often let relationships, anxiety levels, stress and other “less important” issues fall by the wayside in an attempt to just push through two of the toughest weeks on campus. Living, working and playing on a campus defined by its academic rigor, late nights at the library and the epitome of a “work hard, play hard” culture fosters a community in which students seem to prioritize the task at hand, readily concentrating on just academics, or just friends and fun depending on where we are in the quarter. We all too often adopt the mentality that we just have to “get through” a hellish week or “survive” a few more tests or midterms and then all will be better.
The problem with this “work hard, play hard” mentality that so many of us subscribe to is that we are more than just students. Even during the toughest weeks of the quarter, we are more than just essay-writing, p-set-completing, exam-cramming machines. We are living, breathing, dynamic individuals with emotions that need regulating, thoughts and words that need to be listened to, and selves that need caring for. It is typically not until after the stormy conditions of weeks five and six pass, that, Emma’s analysis suggests, students begin picking up the pieces, dealing with personal issues outside of the classroom and taking proactive steps to make our personal lives look as good as our midterm scores.
There’s also a more serious side to this week seven spike. Not only does the Bridge receive more calls in general, but the number of calls we get related to depression and suicide are also higher in week seven than any other week. Smaller problems compound into bigger ones, and after these tough weeks of pushing everything aside for academics, some students find themselves at an all-time low.
It’s no coincidence that I’m writing this column this week. It’s Tuesday of week six, which according to my theory, is one of those brutish weeks that we all just want to push through and “survive” before landing on the other side in a field of rainbows and sunflowers (week seven). I beg you to look at this differently. Rather than mapping your personal life onto the demands of the quarter, nurture your whole self every week. Now I’m not suggesting that we should all take hour-long meditation breaks at 10 p.m. instead of writing the research paper that’s due the next day, but there might be ways to find more balance in our lives and adopt more of a “be well” attitude.
Make time for exercise, even if it means cramming for that midterm for half an hour less. Stop and take time to eat real meals in the company of others rather than grabbing a few goldfish out of the open kitchen. Take time to breathe and feel grateful for your surroundings on the way to class; take a minute to call home. Take care of yourself now and try to dedicate time to both your studies and your relationships, both your problem sets and the sets of problems that arise in the personal, non-academic life of any Stanford student. Because if you push these concerns away now and just power through without taking time for yourself, chances are those issues that you push aside won’t be any easier to handle next week.
Have other thoughts about why students seem to be more stressed out week seven than any other week? Email Emily at email@example.com.