Striking the Balance

One of my first memories of Andover is being told this past fall, before classes had even begun, that “at Andover, you will inevitably face a trade-off between grades and social life. You can only choose one of these or neither.” I had had an easy time balancing my life at my old school, and so I considered myself an exception to this “rule.” I thus learned the hard way that, if we fail to balance our work with play, we will inevitably fall into a cycle of stress and loneliness. Many students at Andover believe that prioritizing work over friends will result in better scores and higher grades. When we deprive ourselves of social time, however, we lose an important outlet for stress. As the anxiety builds, a lack of socializing, initially meant to increase productivity, has the reverse effect as we lose focus and energy, and our grades plummet. This cycle leads to far more severe consequences than mediocre grades and weaker relationships, namely mental illness. I was so stressed out during Fall Term that I visited Graham House a couple of times; only now, in retrospect, can I admit that I may have been depressed. During my first term here, I had to reconcile the unprecedented challenge posed by my schoolwork with my own high expectations for grades, as I understand many new students must. I naively believed that, because I had had an easier time at my old school, Andover would be easy to master. Besides schoolwork, I had numerous extra-curricular responsibilities: once confident to take advantage of every aspect of Andover, I was unmanageably overcommitted. Overwhelmed with stress, I made myself angry, unfriendly and unapproachable. Only when my stress abated on weekends did I look for people. As expected, no one was there. I had not put in the time to build strong relationships, and now I was paying the price. Student stress persists despite efforts to teach us how to manage it, like Wellness Week. This is because the root of the problem lies not in Andover’s intense curriculum, but in the students themselves, because, ultimately, we make our own choices. The best way, then, to break the cycle and curb stress and anxiety is to reform our habits. For example, one strategy that I find very effective is setting aside time specifically for socializing each day. The way to “make the most” of our “Andover experience” is not to work ourselves to death. It is to learn and, perhaps more importantly, to make lifelong friends. It is only when we take advantage of both opportunities that we are will have a fulfilling high school experience.