School, Stress, and Sanity
Dartmouth, on account of how our academics are structured, our D-plan, and simply the composition of our student body, is a work hard, play hard school. Instead of a 16-week marathon like at other institutions, our 10-week terms are more like sprints, where you push harder than any student normally wants to, but for a shorter amount of time.
How do people manage to keep up with all their work, keep the stress at bay, and maintain their sanity? Through some self-reflection and talking with friends and upperclassmen, I've gathered five things I recommend Dartmouth students (and college students everywhere) lean on during times of stress and anxiety surrounding academics.
This is certainly the least fun of all possible recommendations, but one thing that I've personally found to be really helpful in dealing with anxiety and stress surrounding academics in particular is to study and make sure you're prepared for what's coming up. There may still be some anxiety that can never go away no matter how much you study, but a lot of your fears may be assuaged if you know that you are ready and you've been acing your homework and practice tests. At Dartmouth, there is no shortage of individual tutors, study groups, TAs, office hours, and informal study sessions that can help you focus and learn the material. And once you know that you have done enough, then you can relax and lean into this well-earned confidence.
2. Understand the perspective of professors.
When faced with difficult problem sets and surprising exam questions, it can be really easy to demonize professors or feel like they have a vendetta against you and want to see you fail. However, this is not true most of the time and this type of thinking can actually be detrimental to your own mental health because you can feel like doing well is actually impossible and that you don't have the capability to solve the questions that they give you.
Instead of holding onto this mindset, try thinking like this: professors want to teach you these things that they've spent their entire careers investigating. Specifically, Dartmouth professors chose to teach at this school where they are expected to teach classes and engage with undergraduates because they value this work and want to interact with you! They want to prepare you for the workforce, see you succeed both at Dartmouth and afterwards, give you opportunities to cultivate your understanding of the material, and help you improve how you approach problem-solving and daunting tasks. If you see your professors as wise sages in children's movies who push the main character to become better through grit and hard work, it can be easier to release some amity that you hold towards them, and in turn, help you feel more confident and capable of tackling the problems they give you.
3. Keep your plate balanced, but somewhat full.
Make sure that you have a healthy array of commitments, ranging from academic to personal. Most Dartmouth students take on way more than is humanely recommended, but there are also pitfalls when students quit everything to "focus on academics" (I'm guilty of this).
However, for most people, I find that you really do need to be somewhat busy most of the time to make sure that you don't have the wiggle room to procrastinate and waste your life away scrolling through Tik Tok. Additionally, keeping your plate balance with a variety of activities gives you ways to delegate your time across different subjects so you don't feel like your entire life is about studying. Personally, I definitely haven't been doing as much since COVID hit since I have been at home and am operating in a completely different environment, but when it is possible for me to get involved in more things again, I think that that mindset is healthiest for me in giving me variety and external motivation when I need it. Dartmouth activities are some of the best for this, so I can't wait until I get back on-campus and can dance, work, and volunteer with my friends!
4. Treat yourself, productively and unproductively.
A common trap of a student is to always think that there is more to be done. When you have finished this set of practice problems, you can find more in the textbook or on the Canvas page. When you are done studying and reviewing, who's to say that another round of flashcards wouldn't hurt? However, I am here to tell you that it is important to treat yourself to things that you enjoy and not spend all of your time doing schoolwork.
Sometimes, you can treat yourself in a "productive" way, such as reading, cleaning your desk, going for a walk around Occom Pond, painting / drawing, or checking in on a friend. After these sessions, you know that you've accomplished something and you still feel well-rested. Other times, you actually should do nothing in particular and let your mind relax by sitting outside with a glass of tea, playing a board game, or taking a nap. Knowing when to push yourself and when to let yourself recuperate is something that every single Dartmouth student needs to learn at some point in their college career, and I am sure that the same holds true for students at other colleges! It is often said that work will never push you to take a break for yourself, so you need to know when you deserve and need one—the same is true here. Some fun Dartmouth things may include going to events held by the student Programming Board (like virtual Bingo nights!), walking around Occom or going into Hanover to do some window shopping, heading out of campus to see the mountains or nearby residential areas, star-gazing at the golf course, having tea and cookies at Sanborn Library, or doing some yoga at the Student Wellness Center.
5. Give your time to others.
My last suggestion is to give your time to others. For some, that may mean scheduling a lunch date with a friend during finals or calling mom for the first time in weeks. For others, that may mean volunteering with a local organization and spending time with others that way.
Giving your time to others and putting yourself in a different environment is a great way to gain perspective on where you are and what is actually important in life (hint: it's not grades). As college students—anywhere, not just at Dartmouth—, we are privileged to be able to have an education, access to resources, and ample time to build up our credentials and skill sets to finally earn that degree four years later and enter the workforce at full speed. During this time though, we can become overwhelmed with the stress that the pressure-cooker of academia creates, not even realizing that our problems can seem miniscule or even silly compared to those in the "real world". If you are ever struggling to figure out or remember why you wanted to attend college/go pre-med/study consulting/work in the government/etc., I highly recommend that you take the time to talk to others outside of your normal environment and volunteer in areas that you are naturally drawn to. By doing so, not only will you be doing your part to better your community, you will also be able to hold onto the thing that makes you tick and gives you the motivation to continue when times get hard.