Before coming to college, I was often told by current students that in order to fully enjoy every experience college has to offer, I had to get out of my comfort zone. As an international student from Beijing, I understood that getting out of my comfort zone meant exploring student organizations outside of my culture and interacting with students from different backgrounds. But for students at GW, this can often involve pushing themselves to the limit.
In January, The Hatchet reported that many students on campus turn to Adderall when they feel too much pressure balancing leisure and school. After reading this, I started to reflect on the meaning of comfort zone to students at GW. Many students here are perfectionists who try to do well in classes, get internships on the Hill and lead student organizations, all while having a social life. I have felt this high-pressure campus culture since the day I arrived in Foggy Bottom. And now I understand why so many students turn to study drugs to help accomplish these unrealistic, perfectionist goals.
Students take Adderall because they feel that they need the extra support to keep up with everything that they want to achieve. Realizing this problem made me change my understanding of comfort zone. Getting out of one’s comfort zone at GW should mean taking a break from the endless pressure to ensure sustainable passion and stable mental health conditions. At the same time, by taking breaks and finding comfort in who they are, students will learn to chase realistic goals instead of constantly comparing themselves to others and trying to overachieve.
Pressure often comes from competing with our fellow classmates and internalizing that we’re not doing well enough. Coupled with the hustle and bustle that comes from living in an urban area like Foggy Bottom, it’s not unusual for students to feel trapped in an environment that is hard to keep up, especially if they came from suburban or rural areas. Although many students choose GW because of its location, the subconscious impact of the cutthroat culture of urban life – along with the impression that everyone in D.C. is always doing important things can easily permeate our minds – adds more pressure.
Although it’s expected that college students become accustomed to the competitiveness of society, everyone deserves a break. Taking a break not only improves mental health, but helps people avoid using drugs like Adderall. Every once in a while, students should escape the mounting burdens they face in school by taking a step back from overwhelming roles. A short power nap, yoga class or even a fun hobby can change a person’s outlook. Finding comfort in taking time for oneself demonstrates maturity. It shows that students in fact know how to handle upcoming challenges by properly allocating and replenishing their energy without needing to artificially enhance themselves.
In addition to taking breaks, students should make sure to assess their own time and ability before taking on responsibilities or attending classes that are potentially too demanding for a given semester. The stress from trying to achieve everything outside your comfort zone often causes unreasonable expectations and inaccurate judgement on what a student can actually handle. But balancing the available time commitment while leaving enough time to relax would help students handle stress.
A study by social psychologist Jane Adams about perfectionism among college students suggests that the main source of stress tends to be the comparisons we make with the people around us. Too much pressure can even lead to depression and hinder normal daily interactions. In the long term, it’s possible for a person to burn out and lose interest in continuing to work on anything. As for students who seek stimulant drugs like Adderall to offset pressure, they should be cautious, because the use of Adderall could generate serious cardiovascular adverse effects, outweighing the potential positive impacts and facade of comfort that it brings.
Pressure doesn’t stop after four years of college, so it is essential to learn how to incorporate breaks into your life before burning out too soon. Balance in life is key, and sometimes that means redefining what it means to go outside your comfort zone. If you can find the right balance for you now, it will help mitigate and prepare you for the pressure and challenges that are yet to come.
Marx Wang, a sophomore double majoring in political science and philosophy, is a Hatchet columnist.
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This article appeared in the February 1, 2018 issue of the Hatchet.