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Finding the time to unwind

Time: 1 a.m.

Location: 3rd floor Perkins

Cups of coffee consumed: 2.5 iced, 1 hot 

Number of items remaining on my daily checklist: 3/10

No one told me college was going to be a walk in Duke Gardens, but I never expected that I would be averaging five hours of sleep a week in my attempt to keep up with Duke’s fast pace. In these moments, I wonder why I continue to take advantage of all the opportunities at Duke when doing so routinely means sacrificing life’s necessities. 

If you ask me why I have more on my plate than a Tandoor dinner, I’ll tell you a variety of things. I’ll start by saying that I’m finally getting a chance to explore what I’m interested in. I’ll go on to argue that now is the time to do as much exploring as possible and that I’m just taking advantage of every opportunity to expand my boundaries. Depending on my state of vulnerability, I might even admit that I’ve undertaken too many responsibilities for the sake of appearing as the model Duke student. No matter what the reason, my packed academic, social, and extracurricular schedule seems to be leading up to a huge payoff. Between freshman year FDOC and graduation, Duke students receive the best post-graduate preparation in the country; and for that, I am very grateful. But, in my short time here at Duke, I have realized the culture this university cultivates has done very little to teach me how to take care of myself. 

Granted, I came to Duke to study political science—or at least that’s the plan. I didn’t come to a rigorous research institution to learn how to take time for myself and relax. But, keeping up with the “busy Duke student” trope has run me into the ground. So, this column will not be a critique of how much Duke students overextend themselves. We’ve all heard those warnings. Instead, this is a call to make time for what matters most on this campus: yourself. 

If there were a perfect time in the year to focus on self-care, it's right now. The scramble to join new clubs is coming to an end, the rush to drop boring classes and join already-full ones is officially over, and we can all admit that Shooters has lost its summer Stockholm-Syndrome-like appeal. As daily routines become set in stone, introspection and relaxation become ever more important. Yet, many of us find it hard to do. University of Virgina social psychologist Timothy Wilson suggests that people prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if the something is negative. He argues that we rarely enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes by ourselves with only our thoughts. If I can’t even sit in my room alone, why would I go out of my way to do things that give me rest in the midst of a hectic day? The answer should be simple according to DuWell: making the effort for self-care is “essential in maintaining harmony and balance in our lives.” 

Even considering its obvious health and happiness outcomes, self-care at Duke is harder to put into daily practice than it is to talk about. Fully escaping the responsibilities of Duke without dropping major components of a student’s schedule is next to impossible. However, practicing self-care doesn’t have to be some grand, expensive, time-consuming project. The best self-care, especially on this campus, comes from taking advantage of the gaps of time that Google Calendar allows us to breathe and realizing there is more to life than running from class, to a meeting, to Perkins, then to mixers before finally collapsing back in bed. Binge-watching the new season of Great British Baking Show is exactly what is needed at the end of my long weekdays, but committing that much time to anything other than my urban policy readings isn’t realistic. Instead, I settle for an episode or two. I would love to spend my entire Saturday at a spa in Southpoint Mall, but most days I have to settle for a face mask between meetings. If I can only do one thing a day that makes time go a little slower here at Duke, I consider that a victory.

I don’t expect Duke to get any easier. As I enter my sophomore year, I fully expect Duke to find new ways to challenge me to the point of insanity. In some ways, I welcome that challenge because I know that it will make me a stronger person. But, I also know that my first-year-instilled habit of running on Duke’s own brand of daily adrenaline shots and crashing as soon as the day is over is no longer sustainable. Being a content person at Duke doesn’t mean being the person who makes time for everyone and everything else and leaves nothing for themselves. Being a content Duke student means finding the balance between caring about the world around and the world within. 

So, for now, I’m going to leave this library, apply a charcoal mask and watch 12 British bakers struggle to make a fortune cookie—it’s what I deserve. 

Ryan Williams is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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