Should I go to the gym? Later. Should I eat? Later. Should I sleep? Later.
A lot of my “Should I” questions have been ending with the easiest answer I could think of at the top of my head: later. This word rolls off my tongue with dangerous ease, filling the otherwise blank void of a response to my empty questions. I don’t want to shove my other duties in the dark so I just say “later” because then at least the potential of future responsibility is there and it replaces “never”.
Lately, though, later and never don’t seem very distinguishable anymore. I constantly tell myself it’s because there’s just not enough time, which is a complete lie. There is time. There might be limited time to study and reread the same pages of notes repeatedly and tirelessly, but I’ve realized there is no such thing as “no time” when it comes to taking care of your own mental and physical health. There is always time to keep yourself sane and well. But for now, the word “later” has become a comfort mechanism that allows us to reject and stomp on our responsibilities lightly and kindly.
I frequently find myself in the same dilemma. I could go to the gym, burn the sweet potato fry calories and feel jittery with the positive energy emitting from the endorphins and adrenaline. But in that same time, I could have crossed more things off from my to-do list. My ultimate decision tends to fluctuate with stress levels in an ironic sense that I ignore self-care activities in the times I need it most.
I know I’m not the only person stuck in this constant quandary between academia and self because I’ve heard much too many times, “Yeah I haven’t eaten all day, and I’m not really hungry. I’m just going to go back and study.” We start to see less of the light as we dig ourselves into a comfortable hole in the ground, which we rarely leave even if it meant our life was on the line. As dramatic as it may sound, it’s so true it’s almost horrendous.
Recently, many Cornellians have fallen ill to the cold, including me. A cold that normally should have lasted three to five days is lasting an average of two or more weeks. One friend has had prelims back to back and couldn’t afford to de-stress and rest. Another recently recovered from a fever but immediately returned with sniffles. I myself haven’t been able to provide optimal care and attention for my own wellbeing as well, pushing sleep with the magical “later.” Talking with my friend while grumbling about the chills and fatigue coupled with the lack of sleep, I realized just how much our own priorities were literally killing us.
As exam days come near, our lists of priorities are suddenly turned upside down. Our health becomes a task to be completed after the exam. Study now, care later. Sleep becomes a concept for the weak, food becomes a hassle and social interaction naturally becomes scarce. When our minds begin to drown and the only thing we can think of is test material, we’re no longer functional. We fail to fulfill our basic human necessities, and we no longer think for ourselves. We’ve become college cavemen where instead of hunting, all we can do is fall into a brainwashed, deteriorating state of unhealthy study behaviors.
We are privileged to attend an institution like Cornell where we have access to ample resources, opportunities, and education from distinguished, renowned professors. We are all ambitious and passionate, eager to excel and thrive. But once our driving intellectual minds begin to diverge from the goal of achieving knowledge through reflective learning and instead proceed onto a route of competition, comparisons, letters and numbers, we lose grasp of the real purpose, and we lose ourselves in the process.
Caught in this flood of panic and stress, I also tend to stray from my own personal values. It’s become common to “forget” to eat or sleep, and it’s also become upsettingly easy to neglect our privilege of education. And with the constant rigor, it’s undeniably difficult to create a little open space for oneself. But with the right willpower and mindset, it can be as simple as you want it to be. You just have to find yourself again.
See your education from a new light and make it enjoyable by treating your own body right first. Make personal health an equal priority as grades. Set a reminder. Even add “eat” and “sleep” to your jam-packed Google Calendar. Replace social media with productivity. Surround yourself with a group of people that never fail to make you smile. Make space for just you. Stop saying “later” and just do it already.
Alexia Kim is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. Who, What, Why, How? runs every other Friday this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.