The internet and social media have revolutionized the way in which we communicate, conduct business, and learn.
For students especially, such a rapidly changing environment has had an equally pronounced effect on student life and culture.
Opportunities are endless, and pursuing those unlimited opportunities seems to be pushed harder and harder with each new wave of prospective students.
As a recent graduate friend of mine reflected, by sophomore year, incoming freshmen will be overseeing at least five on campus organizations, conducting graduate level research, working two jobs, applying for 30+ internships, and getting published all at the same time.
While a bit of an exaggeration, it isn’t too far from the norm, and reflects a growing trend among college students leading increasingly fast paced lives.
None of this would be possible without the internet, but there may be a dark side.
Several studies have come out recently highlighting an increase in levels of stress and anxiety among both college level and high school students.
Academic institutions are increasingly having to expand care for mental health as the demand continues to exceed capacity across the nation.
According to the American Psychological Association, the percentage of students seeking counseling has skyrocketed from 37% in 2007, to around 50% by 2014.
Anxiety ranks as the most common reason students seek help.
As a rather involved university student myself, I’ve grown accustomed to the occasional fits of anxiety and have seen it become more and more commonplace among friends and peers.
The problem may be that technology has opened up so many doors that students are having trouble deciding which ones to close.
This goes back to the increased level of involvement of students mentioned earlier.
We as humans are naturally risk averse, and for far too many, not pursuing an opportunity is seen as a risk.
At the same time, social media exposes us to what everyone else is doing, causing us to judge our actions more harshly against a larger pool.
Instead of applying for five colleges for example, some high school grads report applying to a minimum of 15 as the norm.
All too often we find ourselves pursuing opportunities either because we saw that someone else had success and wonder if we can mimic it, or because we don’t know what we want to do so we apply for everything.
If we don’t, we feel we may miss out.
Thus, students end up increasingly overburdened with work they may not even enjoy, and more and more confused about their futures.
Among those students who don’t favor such a fast paced life, they too are finding themselves questioning their decisions and lifestyles against their other more involved peers, ignoring what may be best for themselves.
At the end of the day, that is where all this anxiety and stress is coming from.
It is a product of doing something that is not in line with one’s personal ethos, and the increased uncertainty of an environment dominated by technology.
By that I mean, the internet has no set focus.
It bounces around from one thing to the next with no attention span whatsoever.
If we are to give any credit to the idea that humans mimic their environment, the internet is making it increasingly apparent that we do.
We can see this on every level, from the CDC’s tracking of increased rates of ADHD in kids, to college students who report less and less meaning in their relationships.
The way many millennials behave and interact with each other draws stark parallels to the way we consume information.
Facebook, for example, is overloaded with short flashy videoclips that bounce around form one topic to another.
These videos are quickly becoming the average millennial’s go to for news and updates, and while they may look nice on the surface, in actuality, they convey very little.
This makes the problem of stress even worse because normally our best counters to those feelings are our personal relationships, friends and family that keep us grounded.
Instead, millennials are turning to their phones and computers for their security, but very little of it provides any genuine long term comfort.
The internet has changed the environment at such a sharp pace it may be that the mind has not had enough time to adapt.
The best medicine may simply be to slow down.
As someone who once went into a cardiologist’s office mistaking anxiety for heart problems, if there’s any advice I can offer my fellow peers who feel overwhelmed by the intensity of the world around them, it would be to learn how to say no instead of maybe.
Remind yourself that you don’t have to constantly be in motion.
That sometimes a moment of solitude on the shores of a lake offers more value than a night out. And to do what you want to do, not what you feel pressured into.
Because at the end of the day, you will never do as good a job at something you don’t like as opposed to someone who enjoys it.
College is a difficult time for everyone, but the most important lessons you learn won’t come in the form of your classes.
You’ll forget most of that stuff anyway, and most the experience you’ll need will come from work or post-grad.
Instead, the most important lessons that college teaches you are how to handle people, how to handle time, and most importantly, how to handle yourself.
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.
Cover Photo Credit: Sodanie Chea/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)