Unwellness Week

Wellness Week, which began last Monday, is a testament to Andover’s dedication to its student body’s health in spite of the busy pace of life here. The lessons we learnt about physical and mental health during Wellness Week from the variety of classes and speakers were beneficial, yet students seem to be working against collective wellness on a daily basis. We have developed a bad habit of turning suffering and poor health into a competition, and thus, a dangerous link has formed between success and self-deprivation.

At Andover, it is not unusual to be asked, “How many hours of sleep did you get?” In response, students often declare their lowest estimate, as if tiredness were directly proportional to intelligence. Everyone empathizes with the “tiredest” person present, but many also profess admiration. Although finishing work sometimes requires that we stay up later than is healthy, enduring long nights should not translate to being hardworking and successful.

Running on empty does not have any positive effects on performance. On the contrary, the National Sleep Foundation found that teenagers perform best when they sleep for at least eight and a half hours per night. Similarly, a May 2012 Phillipian survey showed a direct correlation between sleep and happiness at Andover.

To add to the issue, coffee has become a staple of many students’ diets, often replacing food. Many seem to believe that the more coffee one consumes, the more intelligent and hardworking one must be, because staying up later theoretically translates to spending more time on homework. Learning to get energy from healthier sources is a much more realistic and sustainable strategy than downing cup after cup.

Just as they harbor a skewed view of sleeping habits, students also like to compare and complain about their eating habits. We make starvation into a contest, and being hungry into a heroic feat. Many proclaim that after a long and hard day, they have time for only a salad. As with sleep, students seem to not only take pride in their suffering, but also seek attention, sympathy and validation for it.

Considering the current prevalence of eating disorders, this practice is not only unhealthy, but downright dangerous. The Phillipian’s 2013 State of the Academy survey found that 15 percent of Andover students have dealt with an eating disorder at some point their lifetimes. Anyone looking at the student body can tell that we are a fit group, and if anything, most of us need to eat more often. When it comes to eating habits and body shape, whether or not we intend it to; our culture of competition encourages social shame and the development of bad habits.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, overeating and binging are paradoxically common problems. Eating a pile of cookies or multiple cones of frozen yogurt is not healthy for anyone, yet students will often declare their ridiculous indulgences in what ends up sounding like contest over who can consume more unhealthy food and feel most guilty about it. This practice may begin as a way to make a friend “feel better” about eating something unhealthy (which is, in and of itself, an unnecessary and detrimental practice), but quickly escalates from there.

This culture of competition, whining and burning ourselves out needs to stop. Instead of turning our lives into a game of who can run themselves closest to the ground without crashing, we should encourage each other to be productive while staying healthy. For example, when a friend begins to complain about a sleepless night, we might suggest they spend the day in Isham. When someone says they do not have time for dinner, we might offer to bring them a slice of pizza. No solution will be perfect, but concerns should be met with responsive action, not more complaints.

Andover’s demanding pace of life requires students to make some sacrifices, but these should not all come at the expense of student health. Sleeping and eating may sometimes take a backseat, but romanticizing poor practices encourages to make routine what should happen only occasionally.