You put your book bag down and turn on the TV to enjoy some of your favorite cartoons – a typical relaxing day after school. Doesn’t this sound great? Well, this was not always the case for me. My after-school time was quite different. Every day, I sat mindlessly highlighting prep books trying to solve all the math problems and then ran off to tutoring class. You might be wondering why. Many South Asian communities equate our intelligence based on what institution one attends. If one does not go to a high-ranking school or pick a reputable career, he/she is not considered smart, and ultimately will have an unsuccessful future. This is an issue I faced my whole life; however, I was not alone. I saw how this way of thinking forced many of my friends to choose careers that they did not enjoy and led to not only negatively impact their physical health, but also their mental health.
The pressure of trying to be better also came with negative comments from individuals within the community. Often, my friends and I were treated differently or criticized for attending specific schools and blamed for our lack of responsibility in not focusing on our futures. From a personal standpoint, I felt an over looming cloud that kept telling me I was not good enough. Ultimately, because of this way of thinking I began to disregard my health. I stayed up all night to study, skipped meals, and consistently worried if I would pass a test or a class. All this worrying made me stop doing things that I enjoyed. I kept blaming myself if I scored lower than I expected. I saw my friends doing the same and resorting to coping mechanisms such as illicit drugs or alcohol to reduce their stress.
The impact of academic pressure is an issue that goes unnoticed in the South Asian communities. Why? Many of our families did not receive similar opportunities that we have and most of our families want us to achieve the best that we can by utilizing the resources they did not have. Although, this is well-intended, the negative impact it brings such as low self-esteem and anxiety is often overlooked. The community is blinded by the importance of prestige and does not see how it mentally impacts an individual.
As a new generation, we can change this way of thinking. Sit down with your parents, explain your academic choices, and teach them how to research and understand what is going on in the current world of academics. Next, show your community that academics is just one piece of the puzzle in life. Talk about how volunteering or your hobbies helped you be where you are in your fields. Show the adverse impact on an individual’s health due to pressure from communities and academic stress. Finally, voice your opinion. One thing that always stops us is the fear that we might disappoint our loved ones. However, put yourselves first. Your happiness is so much more important than prestige from our community.
By Bairavi Maheswaran
Medical student at NYTICOM pursuing a DO/MS dual degree, in hopes of going into psychiatry or neurology as well as academic medicine
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