This piece was originally a Voices column in The Johns Hopkins News-Letter.
Amongst all this chaos and high stress as the year kicks off, we should never forget to take care of ourselves first. No matter how important exams feel, your health is vital. It's no wonder the freshman plague coincides with midterm season every fall. You can hear the symphony of coughs and sneezes in large lecture halls, especially while everyone is furiously scribbling away during an exam.
I myself got incredibly sick before one of my Brain, Behavior and Cognition midterms freshman year. Needless to say, I completely bombed that exam as I felt so awful that I could barely read the questions. Thank goodness I could drop a midterm. This plague I was suffering was more down to stupidity, but it was also part of learning what it means to go to college and to find balance here at Hopkins.
I had decided to do a 24-hour sci-fi movie marathon, from 8 a.m. on Saturday to 8 a.m. on Sunday, with six new friends in my small Sylvester AMR I double (still hands down the best place to live freshman year, despite this horrific event — just saying).
As you can imagine, it did not end well. Seven people in one dark, small room, watching around 12 films one after the other, with only a few breaks and chips to sustain us —it was a recipe for disaster. Unsurprisingly I felt awful on Monday. I was dead. An absolute zombie. And yet I had a midterm on Tuesday morning which I needed to do. If only I had taken better care of myself.
Twenty four hours with no fresh air. That is a death sentence for sure. My freshman year self did not see how that was rather unhealthy of me, and so I want to encourage you all to learn from my mistakes.
Right now, the weather continues to be so beautiful. Soon enough fall will come with its rain and then the nights will get longer and winter will approach with its cold winds. Enjoy the sunshine while you can my friends! You could do this by getting coffee with a friend outside, reading on a quad or even working out — go for a run or walk around campus.
Personally, I try to exercise regularly, but when I don't manage my time well, it's the first thing that goes out the window. But when I do, it's always so worth it. It's a great way to process through whatever is stressing you out, feel those endorphins pumping and take a break from everything that is going on around you. I'll usually go first thing in the morning because at that point I am not even fully awake yet so I don't have time to think about what I need to get done.
By the evenings, my plate is so full, I can't seem to find time to make my way over to the Rec Center. Again, whatever works for you and your schedule is best, but if you haven't tried it out yet, I'd recommend it.
My second recommendation to you all, no matter how long you've been here, would be to get enough sleep. As an RA this year, I certainly witness residents staying up late into the night and I myself this past week have not been getting the sleep I need. It never ends well. Everything just seems so much harder when you're tired. I know I am a lot more irritable when I haven't had enough shuteye and any little thing that may never have annoyed me on a regular day, makes me want to burst into tears.
Of course, some people can function on less sleep than others, but I would encourage you all to make sure that you don't lose sleep because you left everything last minute.
Managing your time can really help make things better in the long run. I believe in taking time to relax and do things you enjoy, but don't do that in order to delay your work. Fit those treat-yourself-moments into your schedule.
I often will work with a friend so they can encourage me to get the worst over with, the assignment I keep putting off, the email I don't want to write. You've just got to rip off that band-aid. Then it's done. Leave it, and it becomes almost too late to the point that you have to sacrifice your sleep and get all stressed. People will say that there are not enough hours in the day, but there are exactly 24 hours each day for each of us, and I believe that we have total control over how we spend those hours.
Maybe I come from a very privileged perspective, but I think that if a class is too much, or a club you're in, or a job you work or the research you do, you have the power to change that. Very few things are absolutely necessary.
And if they are, then the stress you go through must be worth it or why do it at all. Know that you can always ask for help or alterations to create more balance in your life. As a senior, I feel that the more help I ask for, the more questions I ask, the more I use the resources available to us here at Hopkins, the happier I am and the more balance I have in my life.
I only have one more year here so I definitely want to max out on everything that is available to me, such as the extracurriculars I do. They are things that I get a huge amount of pleasure from and thoroughly enjoy. However sometimes I have to recognize that I need to set boundaries. I need to take care of myself first. There is nothing wrong with that. People are understanding.
Self-love is not selfish. You can't pour from an empty cup. Please remember that in the coming weeks and months here at Hopkins and make sure to put your own health and happiness first. You will make others around you healthier and happier too.