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Stress Culture, Interrupted (Through Science)


Dearest Bwog Readers,

For the past week I have been conducting an experiment on myself. Here, in published form, are my findings. (My friend Alex said that you have to be published to get into graduate school—is this true? Can anyone confirm? Anyway, @NorthwesternFeinbergSchool
PsychiatryandBehavioralSciences, hmu.)

I was inspired by something the kids call “stress culture.” We’ve all heard about it, we all know it, but do any of us really know it know it? Is it a toxic self-perpetuating culture of thought distortions? Is it a dearth of chicken strips? Is it something else entirely? I decided that the best way to get at the root of stress culture would be to actively avoid participating in it. Thus began my study.

My experimental design was as follows:

Independent variable: the amount I complain about stress and Columbia (which I manipulated by forbidding myself to complain for a whole week)
Dependent variables: the quality of interpersonal interactions and the state of my mental health
Number of participants: 1
Control groups: N/A
Hypotheses, in order of decreasing likelihood:

  • I would alienate my friends by refusing to indulge their complaints, and our conversations would quickly grow stale because what else is there to talk about really besides how much Butler sucks and how you hate everyone in your seminar and what is the point of calling it a midterm if you have three of them in one class?
  • I would feed my internal anxiety by denying myself the catharsis of complaining, leading to a mental breakdown somewhere between Thursday and Saturday, effectively terminating the study.
  • I would find myself more calm and composed: by pretending that I have my shit together, I would feel like I did, in fact, have my shit together.
  • My friends would appreciate my attempts at compassion and realize that making memes about wanting to die is by no means a healthy coping mechanism and perhaps together we would join forces to transform Columbia’s stress culture once and for all by promoting the notion that actively caring for each other is far more productive than simply complaining together or trying to one-up each other’s struggles.

Data and Results:

On Monday morning, I wake up with a pep in my step, ready to take on the challenge. I get to my first class, 10:10 Introductory Statistics. It becomes clear that I do not know shit about ANOVAs (what does ANOVA even stand for?), and I receive the lowest homework grade I’ve received all semester. I want to rant to my boyfriend about this (how am I supposed to get into grad school if I can’t figure out when to assume equal variances in a t-test?), but instead I hide the homework under a pile of papers and assure myself that I will be fine no matter what. It seems to work.

Next, I meet Alex for lunch in Ferris. All is well until he says something predictably self-deprecating, and instead of going “lol same,” I say, “I’m so sorry you feel that way.”
He looks at me strangely, like I just farted really loudly or something.
“I’m doing that thing for Bwog,” I remind him.
“So you can’t…? Are you kidding? I’m out of here,” he picks up his plate and stands dramatically. I convince him to sit back down, and we continue eating, but it doesn’t feel right.

I spend the rest of the day studying for my Gen Chem exam. I feel prepared and confident. Maybe this whole shindig is kind of genius. Then I actually take the test and it’s like being repeatedly punched in the stomach. In the last two minutes, I fill in random bubbles for five out of the twenty five multiple choice questions. In the moments directly after the exam, I forget about this experiment entirely, and cry to Angelica, “oh my god, that was so hard!” Then I remember, apologize to the integrity of the scientific method, and explain the situation. Angelica does not seem very amused.

Later that evening, as I walk into the Furnald bathrooms, Cameron says hi to me. I say hey back and I’m about to continue talking, but I remember that I’m not allowed to talk about the only damn thing I want to talk about. Instead, I go into a stall and pee.

On Tuesday, I get rejected from SURF. I consciously replace my initial pang of “screw you, Chanda, whoever you are” with “Chanda’s just doing her job, you didn’t even want this anyway because all of the research was with rodents, rejection is a necessary part of life, calm your tits.” Maybe I can be okay with this.

I let those thoughts simmer during Contemporary Civilizations. I want to talk to the girl I sit next to, but the conversation feels dishonest. I can’t shake off how lonely I’m beginning to feel. We are reading Freud and my teacher brings up the quote, “It is always possible to unite considerable numbers of men in love towards one another, so long as there are still some remaining as objects for aggressive manifestations.” I think about that for a while. In fact, I am still thinking about that quote as I write this post. I have never felt closer to my friends than when we are collectively bitching about PrezBo’s salary and what an architectural monstrosity Lerner Hall is. Why the heck did I think this would be a good idea? Did I really believe that inhibiting my self-expression would be a humorous yet enlightening method of gleaning insight into the nature of Columbia’s stress culture? I am so done. I have to finish this stupid post and write two more in the next two days, also I just spent so much time on that student doctor forum website and apparently my career prospects are pretty bleak, so I guess I’ll end up living in, like, a Woodbridge sink or something until I die.

What day am I even on? Ugh, who cares. I’m so fucking stressed!

 Image Via Bwog Staff.

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