Category: Mental Health

Do you belong here?

It’s a loaded question, and one I believe that many Columbia students encounter during their time here — commonly in the first or second year. The feeling that while your classmates are smart, talented, and generally have their lives together, you are dumb, untalented, and merely pretending that you are not falling apart.

This feeling, labeled Impostor Syndrome from its first characterization in 1978, is thought to be common in high-pressure cognitive environments — by some estimates affecting as high as 70% of the population in these environments. The psychologists who first discovered the phenomenon, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, described it as “a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”

While not recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (more commonly known as the DSM), Impostor Syndrome can have real effects on the way people interact with the world, especially among college students in elite universities.

Terrified of being outed, the ‘impostor’ avoids taking on extra challenges, hesitates before  applying to high-level internships or fellowships, studies excessively to make up for their perceived cognitive deficit, or correspondingly, procrastinates out of fear that they’ll never finish it all.

When something bad happens, whether it be a below average grade, a failed audition, a rejected submission, or merely a fight with a friend, the ‘impostor’ does not see it as merely a small setback in an otherwise well-lived life. They see it as a confirmation of what they’ve known all along — that they do not belong at a school like Columbia, and that they are doomed to fail.

In particular, certain populations are more susceptible to Impostor Syndrome — for instance, those which have been underrepresented or disadvantaged. This group predominantly includes women, people of color, and first-generation students, and these identities can negatively impact student performance in a significant way.

When primed with their identities, each member of these groups did dramatically worse on tests of logic or mathematics, in some studies underperforming by 10-20% than those who were not reminded that they were “different.”

Why do so many high-achieving students ignore all evidence to the contrary and believe they are inferior? How can this belief so negatively impact their performance? While Impostor Syndrome has not yet been studied neuroscientifically, some clues from related fields of study can help shed some light on possible neural mechanisms underlying Impostor Syndrome.

One possible explanation comes from the perceived inadequacy causing an activation of stress-systems in the brain. As I have discussed before, when your brain is flooded with stress hormones the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula all light up. Activation in these brain regions is known to induce anxiety and fear, as well as a host of other deleterious effects on student health.

Correspondingly, induced stress can inactivate your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and inferior temporal cortex — reducing working memory load, the ability to form new memories, and the ability to recall stored knowledge. In effect, if you constantly believe that you are not good enough to succeed, your success might ironically decrease.

Far from just a cognitive nuisance, if Impostor Syndrome is left unchecked it can cause extreme risk-aversion and contribute to generalized anxiety disorder. So what can be done about it? Some evidence points to fact-exposure as a good treatment — remind yourself of all the times you have in fact succeeded.

When failures inevitably occur, take the time to analyze how much was truly your fault, and how much can be chalked up to bad luck. Perhaps most importantly, talk to the people you trust about the feelings of fraud you might be experiencing. Whether that is your parents, friends, or a therapist, talking through those fears and having them invalidated can often be cathartic in combating Impostor Syndrome.

In an environment of brilliant and hyper-competitive peers, it can be easy to compare your inner self to your classmates outer selves without stopping to think that the vast majority of your fellow students are struggling with the very same issue. And if nothing else, I can answer the question I asked at the beginning of this article for you — yes, you do belong at Columbia.

 

Foreword: With Dean Valentini urging Columbia students to talk to Columbia Counselling and Psychological Services, I wonder if Yi-Chia “Mia” Chen had tried these services. Has anyone? We essentially seem to be unequipped to deal with catastrophes like this. This article is mainly written not to give the best solution, but to ask for solutions. What can we do better to prevent things like this from happening again? What improvements can be made?

Today I received an email from Dean James Valentini about the apparent suicide of an exchange student at Columbia College from Waseda University in Japan. It is not the first time since my first year in Columbia that I received an email like this.

But that is not the scariest part. It is not the death that is happening so close to us that we fear, but the oblivious bystanders.

The oblivion of this world.

My first reaction to the email is: if it happened yesterday, why is no one talking about it today?

Death at this moment has become a private matter. Only a small group of people are suffering in an unknown corner of this world, while the vast majority don’t even seem to care.

This earth, without her, keeps spinning around its axis.

No one knows that she took her own life that day. If not for the email, I even would not know anything about it. Even people living in the same floor with her may not have a clue. Right now, I am sitting in the Columbia Writing Center, and people around me seem to mind their own business, jumping and rushing around to fix their essays to get an A in the class.

But at the same time, someone, someone that I might have passed by every single day on campus on my way to University Writing, gave up her life.

The parallel is striking. The same road we choose to cross every single day may lead to a drastically different ending.

I talked to several friends about the news, but all I got are just oblivious, brush-it-off, I-don’t-know-what-to-say answers. The conversations quickly die off or move on to another topic.

Is it just me? Or is the world is so used to catastrophe and death that no one seems to care anymore? Or is it only my world that is so full of translucent fragile bubbles that when death tumbles on its feet near me, it is so easily crashed.

For those who are so used to seeing death, their world must be made from cotton, muffling their ears so well that they can easily move back to their original tracks when death missed them merely.

Yeah, my next-door neighbor killed herself, but I have a midterm tomorrow.

I don’t really know her. I need to study.

It is so curious how the world deals with the death of a stranger, as it happens so often.

On this campus that breaths of liveliness and ambition, it also buries lives. Very often.

But what role do we play in this ridiculous game of life, in an event like this?

We bear witness. For the deceased lives.

Is death or suicide still meaningful if no one knows about it?

If no one knows me in this world, is my life still meaningful?

Do we live for ourselves or for people who know us?

Do you still choose life over death adamantly if no one cares about you in this world?

If you live in agony and solitude, do you choose to live?

Or would you choose death, even when you are surrounded by people who love you deeply?

I have to end my writing process also at this moment because my appointment is up for discussing the paper due tomorrow.

I also have to throw myself entirely into another conversation because there are things that I have to prioritize as well.

I talked to my parents and my friends, but all of their responses reveal the inertness and the powerless of words when facing the topic of death.

When death merely missed us, the mixed feeling of regret, relief, fear, anger, grief, sorrow cannot be concluded by a simple word.

Many people choose to ignore that feeling because it happens every second. 1.8 people die every second, to be exact. By the time you finished reading this sentence, 4 people have died.

Th human mind seems incapable to deal with the fact that the world is dying every half second.

Just like no one can celebrate every birth of a new born child, no one can grieve for every death that is happening around the world.

We simply don’t have enough joy and sorrow for strangers.

Our emotion seems reserved and ephemeral at this moment. Reserved because of the emotional distance between the person and us. Ephemeral because of the limited time.

Are we oblivious? Or do we simply save it for people we care?

We approach the topic of death with caution. Isn’t it because that we are afraid that we will spread too thin in the face of catastrophe?

The world keeps spinning not because it is okay without her, but because MY world is okay without her.

We all have limited emotion reserve. I am really sorry that I cannot share a piece of my pie with you. I am truly sorry.

But at the same time, in the deep corner of our heart, don’t we feel a little lucky that we don’t know her at all?

Because of the strangeness, we can tip-toe dancing around her death, wasting the life that she no longer had.

We are innocent from the news, so we don’t know what happened, so we don’t care, so we are oblivious.

But can we keep pretending when Columbia sends us an email to let us be informed?

Do we have the right to choose to be uninformed when death comes near? I guess, we can always choose to distance ourselves from death. We can choose oblivion.

But, can we?

Should we?

I have to move on, eventually.

I am the bystander who chooses to bear witness.

I can choose oblivion, but somebody cannot. They have to wait for time to heal their wounds.

I fear the oblivion, but I understand it. Because in this world, every single second, there are someone who is overjoyed for life, and someone who suffers from it.

These two things happen everywhere at the same time.

They can be 100,000 miles, or the thickness of a wooden door from each other.

She laughs, I cry.

He cries, you laugh.

We begin to understand this world. We begin to understand the double-sided nature of joy and sorrow. We begin to understand ourselves.

We start to know life, a little by little.

At the same time, the frat parties are still on tonight next door to the campus.

If you need to reach out to someone regarding mental health, these resources are at your disposal:

Remi Free/Senior Graphics Editor

I fondly remember the first time I arrived at Columbia. There was a humongous smile across my face as the taxi driver drove my mother and me through the College Walk gates for CUE move in. All those months of high school paid off and I was about to start classes at a school I never imagined I’d ever attend. My mind was racing as I tried to meticulously plan my schedule and goals for the next four years. It felt like I found my new home and nothing could go wrong.

Fast forward two years as I was wrapping up sophomore year. I was running on five hours of sleep, stressed beyond measure, and profusely sweating as I moved my stuff out of my residence hall and into a storage facility for the summer.

Instead of all the happy memories I had when I first arrived to Columbia, my mind was just — bitter. I wanted out. I just wanted to move out and head home and get as far away from Morningside Heights as I could.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Columbia and all the resources it has to offer, but with all these benefits come the inevitable pitfalls of attending one of the most stressful and prestigious universities in the world.

As I progressed through each semester at Columbia, I slowly adapted to some of our school’s more detrimental traditions. I would stay up until the early hours of the morning working, overload myself with too many classes and commitments than I should have gone through with. I would fall into the constant conversation trap of discussing how many hours you spent studying in Butler on a given day as if that meant anything (news flash: it means absolutely nothing). Even as I tried harder and harder in my classes, I continued to perform below my own expectations and goals.

It didn’t help that some of my professors seemed to encourage students to engage in these traditions. In one of my classes, my professor seemed proud of the fact that he expected you to still perform poorly on his tests no matter how much you studied and that he hoped others wouldn’t help you when you struggled on your homework assignments. It got so bad that whenever they sent announcements to our class, I actually felt a sense of dread; I just wanted it to be over.

As I boarded my flight back home after leaving my storage unit, I felt myself feel happy and relaxed for the first time in a while.

So this upcoming semester, I’m going to do something different. I am not going to let myself fall prey to trying to underhandedly compete with others on how little sleep I got or how much time I spent sitting in Butler. Instead, I’m going to work on taking the classes I love, setting aside more time for myself and exploring the city. I actively intend to talk with my professors more and be more willing to tell them when I think they’re adding to Columbia’s already troubling stress culture.

When first year me arrived on campus, he looked forward to being his authentic self and not letting others get the best of him. Hopefully junior year me can make sure to bring that attitude and spirit back into fashion.

The Lion is the only Columbia publication with an open submissions policy. To respond to this op-ed or to submit one of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.

On Tuesday, we elected a man who had double-digit sexual offense accusations to be our 45th president. We elected a man as President who repeatedly spoke of groping women and called them “pigs” and “slobs.” We  elected a racist and misogynistic man president, instead of a competent and experienced woman.

This makes me sick to my stomach.

Being a girl in the United States today means being constantly taken for a sack of meat. It means frat boys at the entrance of parties only letting girls enter  – and only the ones who they deem to be “hot” enough – so that brothers can maintain their monopoly on women. It means having to justify not wanting to sleep with this or that boy. It means having to explain why you don’t want to be grabbed by the ass by a boy you barely know. It means being called a slut or a bitch because you refused to go on a date or to sleep with a certain guy. It means having to put your headphones in and your chin up when you walk down the street to tune out the constant harassment.

Growing up a girl means being sexualized before you even understand what that means. It means checking with your father, mother, brother, or best friend about whether that skirt is long enough for you to wear outside. It means the constant “do I look skanky?” and “will I get in trouble?” It means having to second-guess yourself in the mirror every day to make sure you aren’t “provoking” anything or “asking for it.”

This isn’t about the glass ceiling, equal pay for equal work, or academic and professional discrimination. This is about how we relate to our identities and our bodies, about what it means to grow up a girl.

I consider myself a feminist, and yet, I find myself falling into the trap of all these accusations. I find myself wondering whether I was really right to refuse that date, whether it was really okay for me not to go back home with that boy. Boys and men have disrespected me more times than I can count. I have been called a slut for not going along with what a guy was asking of me a shameful number of times. Like this, myself and millions of other women walk on eggshells to avoid the stigma of oversexualization. We keep our eyes down and pull down our skirts not to be noticed, and we fight off unwanted gestures as swiftly as possible.

We all suffer from this, girls and boys, who play along with the trend to appear “tough,” yet we keep quiet. Yet again, yesterday we elected a misogynistic man to preside over this country. We elected someone who not only exposes and embraces the entire array of sexual violence – from harassment to assault – that we face every day, but also legitimizes it. On Tuesday, 53% of white women voted for a man who considers them nothing more  than objects.

We have normalized sexual violence to such an extent that it has become imperceptible. We hide behind our libertarian ideas of hookup culture, drink an extra shot and assume everything is fine. We forget the rapes, the unwanted touching, the gross comments, and, most of all, the pressure. The pressure to pretend that everything is okay, that we are young and free and so is our sexuality. We blame each other for being stuck up, for not playing along.

I firmly believe that this is fundamentally wrong. I also believe that this wrong will only be fixed when we all stand behind our female role models and help them lead. Until we trust our fellow women enough to stand with them and fight against this image. Until we all stand together and fight everyday sexist violence, until we realize it is not normal, we will not be able to change anything.

Ana is a junior in the School of General Studies majoring in MESAAS.

The Lion is the only campus publication with an open-submissions policy. To respond to this piece or to submit one of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.

Having trouble getting out of bed? Often times, waking up feeling groggy and with a lack of energy is the result of the human body processing unbalanced amounts of unnatural substances.

Luckily, you can improve your sleep quality and overall health and appearance by following the simple tips below:

1. If you want carbs, pick “good” carbs, not “bad” carbs

“Good” carbs come from natural non-GMO foods such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, etc. that are loaded with vitamins and minerals in their natural and absorbable form.

For grains, try “good” carb grains like quinoa, and exotic wheat such as spelt and bulgur. Tubers such as potatoes and yams are also great “good” carbs. As for rice, make sure it’s wild. If not, then prepare it with other vegetables, seeds, nuts, or legumes that will decrease the percentage of empty “bad” carbs.

You are what you eat, so if you eat junk, you will feel like junk. Therefore, keep all processed foods overloaded with preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and other synthetic sugars to a meager minimum.

Eating “good” carbs in high amounts on a regular basis will help the body repair the damages caused by years of “bad” carbs. Thus, you will wake-up feeling more refreshed and full of energy.

2. Decrease your dependence on stimulants

Whether it be coffee, alcohol, or drugs, stimulants can be addictive and habit-forming. Stimulants can negatively influence the brain by heightening emotions and also can influence the cognitive and memory centers of the brain so you lose control of your body.

Over time, this can impair your memory, as you start to lose brain cells. Therefore, if you stay up late and depend on stimulants to continue to perform any academic or social activity, this could affect your quality of sleep.

In order to decrease your dependence on stimulants, it is best to replace them with a natural alternative. For example, replace a cup of coffee with an energy-boosting combo of oranges and pomegranates. Replace alcohol with something like grape juice.

Drugs can be replaced with natural herbs called adaptogens (such as ginseng, rhodiola, etc.) that lower stress and anxiety, while also boosting the immune system. By lowering your dependence on stimulants and drugs, your body will be able to process fewer harmful chemicals, which will give you more energy to start your day.

If you combine these tips with a moderate amount of exercise and sunlight, then you will be able to wake up feeling more refreshed and full of energy.

To submit a piece for publishing on The Lion, email submissions@columbialion.com