story | Harrison Linder, Managing Editor
photo | Harrison Linder
It has almost become a cliché to talk about the poor state of mental health on college campuses, especially at “elite” ones like Yale-NUS College. For many, it seems strange how people with such great prospects for the future can be so perpetually upset. But, as we all know, part of the reason why many of us are in this privileged position now is because we have constructed really high expectations for ourselves. We achieved more than our peers in high school, not necessarily because we were smarter than them, but because we were willing to sacrifice more for success.
While growing up in San Francisco, I had a number of friends who were really intelligent but spent a very significant amount of time smoking weed. I am fairly certain that if these people put in the same amount of effort to “succeed” as I had, they would have achieved more than me. However, for whatever reason, they chose to just relax while I chose to push myself.
It can be very easy to look down on their choices, but sometimes I really wonder if my life is really better than theirs. Yeah, having achievements feels nice, but is that feeling really worth the stress?
When I think critically about whether or not I am willing to stop striving, my answer is a resounding no. Like many other Yale-NUS students, I find striving towards goals incredibly meaningful.
However, striving can be counterproductive. Near the end of last semester, I was pushing myself to achieve academically to the point where it was actually negatively affecting my academic performance. Ironically, by striving for success, I had stressed myself out to the point where I could not succeed.
It was clear that my lifestyle needed to change. At first, I assumed that success and mental health were a tradeoff and that in order to live a happy life I would have come to terms with the fact that I am not as capable as I had hoped. However, in the process of reassessing my mental health, I read Lost Connections by Johan Hari, which led me to the powerful conclusion that cultivating wellbeing does not limit achievement, but rather enables it.
Improving wellbeing not something that I had to sacrifice in order to achieve my goals. Rather, it is something that allowed me to achieve them.
I am not the only one who has come to the conclusion that wellbeing is essential for achievement. Corporate wellness has become an increasingly popular initiative around the world, not because employers suddenly started caring about their employees, but because it is good for business. Studies have found that when an employee’s wellbeing increases, they take fewer sick leaves and achieve more.
The Yale-NUS administration is also concerned about wellness. According to Dean of Students Robert Wessling, starting this summer, the Dean of Students office will be reviewing wellness programs on campus. They will be determining what “evidence-based”, i.e. scientifically tested, wellness programmings to implement going forward.
While I am optimistic about the reforms that the Dean of Students plans to make to wellness programming, I do not think that stressed kingfishers should count on being rescued by the administration anytime soon.
Rather, I would suggest that we all try and take our own wellbeing into our own hands. I personally have experimented with multiple wellness practices and found some that truly improve my wellbeing.
One practice that I have found to increase my own wellbeing is mindfulness meditation. Throughout the day, my emotions and feelings of anxiety significantly fluctuate. Often times, I want to be productive, but my emotional state prevents me from focusing. For me, mindfulness has been a tool to regulate my emotions and be focused and rational despite external circumstances.
I am certainly not the only one who has found value in meditation– many Fortune 500 CEOs engage in the practice.
Another way that I have been able to improve my wellbeing is simply by spending more time studying in public spaces as opposed to studying in my room. For a long time, I thought that isolating myself in my room would limit distractions and ultimately make me more productive. However, studying in my room all the time left me socially isolated. Studying in public spaces has allowed me to have many serendipitous conversations with friends. While I may be getting distracted from work much more often than if I were alone in my room, these conversations helped build the strong friendships I have now.
Scientific studies strongly suggest that having strong relationships is an important aspect of wellbeing, and I have personally found this to be the case. Having friends that I can speak honestly with has been very important for my personal wellbeing.
While meditation and spending more time building friendships will benefit many of you, there is no one-size-fits-all path to wellbeing. Discovering and maintaining wellness practices and lifestyle choices that work best for you will take time and effort. I personally have found it easy to lapse out of my wellness practices without initially realizing it. Similar to improving physical wellbeing through diet and exercise, improving mental wellbeing is difficult, but is ultimately worth it.
While the path to wellbeing may seem daunting, you do not have to walk it alone. We at Yale-NUS are lucky enough to have a dedicated counseling center at which you can get advice from mental health experts for free. Any Yale-NUS student serious about maximizing their success and wellbeing owes it to themself to go to the counseling center at least once in their time here.
Wellness is not just a fad promoted and monetized by Instagram influencers, nor is it only valuable in the eyes of commune dwelling neo-hippies. Rather, wellness practices are valuable for everyone, especially those who strive for excellence. As an ambitious Yale-NUS student, you owe it to yourself to start taking wellness seriously.