How to overcome anxiety at Cornell

Welcome to the Ivy League: if you don’t pencil in your social life, you may not have one at all

As I sit down for coffee with one of the best friends I’ve had at Cornell since day one, we joke about how we had to send out Google calendar invites just to get together to talk about life’s struggles for a bit.

Human interaction. It’s how we try to ease some of this anxiety the Ivy League life engenders, especially for students who aren’t from very privileged educational backgrounds. It’s a struggle figuring out what role we play at an elite institution.

My friend and I don’t think of ourselves as conventional Cornell students, and our conversations always sound something like this:

Can I be more productive than yesterday? Is it physically, humanly possible? I don’t like to limit my options, so I won’t limit myself. I’ll just keep on. It feels like Cornell is getting the best of me, but I’ll keep going because, ultimately, I have a burning desire to not only finish this degree, but to have a meaningful future after Cornell.

I can’t look back to where I came from, I can’t give up on this dream, because Cornell represents my first opportunity to be what society deems a somebody. In being that somebody, there isn’t room for this fear – a constant state of inadequacy.

We know what we signed up for: rigor, competition, some suffering, feeling out of place. I’ve also never been more in tune with myself – for better or for worse. I just need to get through these next few weeks, then I’ll be able to come up for air.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to gasp. I wonder how much longer I’ll have to deal with this tight feeling in my chest, racing thoughts, and this fear of not making it. Our last exchange before departing resonates within my head: “We’ll be alright, because we’ve made it this far, we are strong”.

Even with all of this reassurance I can’t help but long for a time when I didn’t feel this way. My mind wanders back to this summer. Thanks to the McNair Scholars Program, I stayed at Cornell to work on independent research, professional development, and even some soul searching, too.

It was a pretty busy summer, but somehow the social support of a close knit group, working towards similar goals together, was able to ease quite a few of my troubles. The McNair Scholars program helps undergrads engage in research and develop their career paths and goals pertaining to the completion of a PhD program in their respective fields.

In an attempt to slow my mind down, I recall being at the Hoffman Challenge Course, with my fellow McNair Scholars.

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We spent our day helping each other let go of, or harness control over fear and anxiety.

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We buckled up and served as each others’ pulleys. It took a lot of teamwork to lift just one person up in the air so they could feel like they were flying. We also spent time zip-lining, climbing, and refocusing our approach on work ethic.

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I honestly don’t think I would be as well off at Cornell without having these people in my life, including our program directors and coordinators, who go above and beyond to see scholars succeed. In our individualistic society, we tend neglect to the fact we need each other to get through life, to achieve on that pursuit of happiness, but there are students and professionals at Cornell who are working to bridge that gap.

Personally, you’ve got to let yourself find a combo of stress/anxiety-reducing activities. Some of us see stress as not a threat, but an avenue toward success, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t toxic. Cornell is ideally setting us up for a less bumpy transition into professional life – and we can’t knock it for being realistic. It is a cut-throat and overwhelming environment, and with that being said, anxiety isn’t going anywhere.

While anxiety isn’t always crippling, apparent, or medically treated, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It takes on several forms, and I don’t think there is a soul out there who hasn’t experienced it at one point or another. We’re trained to keep our feelings on lock-down because sometimes there isn’t enough time in a day to live them, and when we do want to feel-the world tells us we should be feeling happiness, or pursuing it. The problem is, in this society, happiness is based on success, and there doesn’t seem to be any without stress and anxiety, and this breeds fear.

Although it can be paralyzing at times, there’s no need to put off enjoying life because of this fear. In whichever way you can afford to, you should make it a point to enjoy yourself  while you work toward that bigger goal, and your friends are also here to help.

As students at Cornell, we can only hope to be more collaborative, more understanding of each others’ struggles and triumphs alike. Out of that we can birth a less helpless, and more honest campus community. That can only happen if we continue our conversation about it.

Let us not linger in complacent silence. We can be the change.

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