“Yeah, I’m totally fine.” 

The human body is incredible, isn’t it? It’s capable of so much — all we have to do is train it and trust that it will keep up with any physical exertions that are inflicted. It suffices to say that most of us have gotten quite good at inferring the consequences that our dietary intakes and lifestyles would have on the mechanical aspects of our bodies. 

To train for any sport, for example basketball, athletes train and appropriately fuel their bodies in order to perform on the court. 

If one can infer these things for physical well-being, what about the stuff that goes on inside your head? Though the conversations around mental health have substantially improved, it seems to me that many are more invested in its social advocacy rather than its implementation to reality, especially when it concerns themselves. 

When waking up on time becomes a miracle instead of routine and eating breakfast turns into a time-permitting luxury, perhaps your medial prefrontal cortex is trying to tell you something. 

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. In fact, you’re probably experiencing some form of it as you’re reading this right now. The type of stress holds a lot more significance than one might assume.

Episodes of acute stress, that can cause an individual to do things like type at godspeed at 11:56 PM, elicit the “fight or flight” response. This goes on to increase cortisol and adrenaline levels and blood pressure.

Chronic stress may develop if these moments of acute stress are prolonged, or if the stressors themselves are there to stay, such as the steady demands of university workloads. 

The never-ending drone of monotone lectures, awkward tutorials, labs with clocks that definitely tick faster and tedious group assignments often cause students to disregard obvious signs of mental health deterioration. The combination of all that pressure can result in “burnout,” otherwise known as a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. 

This can leave a person unmotivated, anxious or cynical, the consequences of which may be disastrous. 

McMaster’s mental health resources, which include outlets to gain information, will tell you no different. In addition to facilitating mental health education, McMaster offers several other resources such as guided self-help, peer support, student services, phone lines and even mental health crisis support. 

However, you didn’t need me to tell you that. The majority of McMaster’s student body is aware that some form of mental health support exists, much like it does at most post-secondary institutions. 

Why, then, might one ask that recognizing and being aware of mental health is still a concern, if not a greater one than before? This can be explained, in my opinion, through a combination of two factors, the first of which may be quite apparent: the onset of remote learning and the assumption of immunity. 

Let’s break this down. 

As discussed by many before, a shift to online learning has meant fewer in-person interactions with peers, more uncertainties about daily scheduling and a decreased sense of structure. 

Though manageable and perhaps even beneficial for a short period of time, the stretch of its duration has resulted in added layers of concern such as employment terminations and financial hardships, all of which contribute to mental health deteriorations. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, 46 per cent of Ontario students reported feelings of depression and a whopping 65 per cent experienced overwhelming anxiety. Imagine the numbers now. 

It also shouldn’t be a surprise that these layers affect different students to varying degrees when you account for initial socioeconomic states that are often influenced by social identities, race and ethnicity. 

Now that we’ve established a plausible source for increased mental health concerns, what’s stopping students from acknowledging them — let alone seeking support? People love to overestimate their own abilities and qualities, which is a form of cognitive bias that’s explained by the illusory superiority theory

In some contexts, this bias can be beneficial by providing the necessary confidence to perform a certain task. In the case of mental health, however, it can prove to be detrimental by providing fuel to the assumption that we are immune to its degradation. 

This is where things can get dangerous. While it’s important to push yourself to reach your fullest potential, it’s just as important to know when to pause. The problem with assuming immunity is that students may overestimate their abilities and continue to pile on work while convincing themselves that “they’re fine.” 

So how does one swallow their pride and seek help? The solution may seem blatantly obvious and one that I’m sure you’ve heard countless times: find balance. Remember that, even though school may be quite demanding, it’s important to schedule in TikTok-less breaks and spend them doing things that you enjoy. Take a breather. After all, timeouts and half-times exist for a reason. 

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