There’s comfort in admitting you can barely stay afloat

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Photo Credit: Alexandra Vanderhider | Daily Texan Staff

If you’re a struggling UT student, talking with your anxious peers mere minutes before an exam isn’t the best way to alleviate your worries: There will always be someone who claims to feel completely prepared, having pulled off a string of night-long study binges. 

Almost half of all Longhorns feel overwhelmed by their workloads. An additional half said they feel exhausted for reasons other than physical activity. Still, it’s easy to feel that everyone else is doing fine.

This feeling is so common within campus communities, in fact, that it has even become an informal mental health diagnosis. Duck syndrome refers to the perception of everyone else managing their social and academic lives with ease while you feel that you’re barely staying afloat. It is represented in the way ducks appear to be effortlessly gliding despite their frantic paddling below the surface.

On campus, duck syndrome overlaps with our stress culture to form the perception that we’re never quite good enough — that we should be taking further measures to succeed, even to the detriment of our well-being. To alleviate some of this anxiety, students should be honest with their peers about the difficulties of college academics. 

“In early morning classes, you’ll immediately get someone who comes in and talks about how tired they are because they were studying so hard and only got three hours of sleep,” said astronomy junior Thomas Seive. “If you were spending that time sleeping or doing other things, it definitely makes you feel inadequate in a way.” 

Seive said he’s noticed a lot of high-achieving students feel the need to show how well they can perform with so little sleep. Although it’s likely these students boast to acknowledge their efforts, feigning stability in a college setting is unhealthy and can cause students to feel as though they need to adopt extreme habits, even if they were secure in their abilities beforehand. 

Biology sophomore Krystal Virk said a similar dialogue takes place in class group messages the night before an exam. She said when students would talk about how they were still studying at 5 a.m., she would begin to wonder if the students knew something that she didn’t and felt the need to push herself further as a result. 

“I feel like it’s the same way when you’re talking about school and grades in general with people,” Virk said. “They just try to one-up you.”

Instead of boasting their efforts and disguising their struggles, students should be candid with their peers about the academic difficulties they’re facing.  

“When people admit to working hard on things, it does make a kind of bond,” Seive said. “Like, we’re both in this boat together, and we’re working hard and we’re achieving similar goals.”

Where boasting only results in psyching each other out, talk of shared strife helps students to realize they aren’t alone. When your classmate becomes someone you’re working hard alongside, you no longer feel the need to outdo them. 

In discussing academics with each other, students need to be honest about their struggles. Not only will this lift the pressure of having to do everything effortlessly, but we can also turn our mindset of competition into collaboration. 

David is a rhetoric and writingsophomore from Allen.