College, MIT

Mental Health and Stress at MIT (28 of 30)

With all the cool stuff of MIT, I should probably talk about some of the less pretty parts of MIT. The biggest thing that comes to mind is mental health. It’s common to want to take every class in the directory. It’s tempting to join a bunch of clubs and commit hours to them. It’s alluring to try and solve every single problem on homework by yourself with no hints. Because of that, it’s easy to get stressed and overworked. The weather in the wintertime doesn’t help with it all when you come out of class, and it’s completely dark either.

Mental health isn’t just an MIT thing, but I think it can be especially tough for people with lower self-esteem or people who aren’t yet confident in their abilities. Being in intro classes with ‘child prodigies’ can be a rough way to start college. It’s common (especially in computer science classes) to sit next to students who started learning the material in middle school. It’s given that they’re going to be better than someone who just started learning the material in college. But shockingly, I hear, “I can never become as good as that kid” way too often (also “I need to catch up to their level,” “if they’re taking six classes, why can’t I also do that?” or “why am I at the same school as them?”).

This is an interesting statistic: only around 30% of MIT students think that they’re ‘above average’. Although this study was conducted many years ago, I don’t think the statistics have changed since then.

We aren’t alone

I’ve known people who’ve had trouble finding a sense of belonging because of this or become overwhelmed with everything they have to do. As long as people are aware that a non-trivial amount of students struggle with the same feelings throughout their four+ years, it can help normalize and reduce the stress/sadness being ‘worse’ than someone else and having to more to compensate. It’s because everyone goes into computer science and people who didn’t do computer science are naturally a few steps behind. But as a computer science major myself, I am always in awe of people who were were knowledgable in other things that picked up everything I learned in a few semesters when it took me years. I appreciate MIT admissions for creating such a diverse class where I can always talk to someone and be like, “I wish I were as good as them in [this other activity].”

What I’ve learned

I’ve found over the years is knowing when enough is enough work. Sometimes it’s worth it to drop an assignment, ask someone else to help you with an assignment, or take over a club responsibility. People also drop classes — even in the middle of the semester. It’s not an uncommon occurrence; I’ve done it myself too! I’ve found that *many* my classmates experienced the exact feelings I have had, and talking to them over the years helped me overcome them. Knowing that you aren’t alone was easily the best thing I learned over the four years. Everyone is above average at something :).

As an aside: I’ve always had high blood pressure until the last year of college. I guess I was pretty stressed :) back in the day…

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