Among my group of friends, the three week crunch between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break has lovingly been dubbed as the “three weeks of hell.” It happens every year without fail, and, in my experience, only gets worse as the years go by (sorry, freshmen).
It always comes about a little like this. Classes have a lackadaisical start to the year, those first few weeks of school spent under a sweltering September sun peppered with icebreakers and get-to-know-you worksheets. Summer clings to the jean shorts and flip flops we wear, carried over on the relaxed attitudes we are all so reluctant to shed. When the weather snaps sometime in mid-October, when fleece-lined leggings and Timberlands gradually reappear in the hallways, we finally put our heads down and work. Classes pick up speed, tests and projects cycle through, and here and there a teacher’ll mention a deadline in mid-December. “Right before Break,” they’ll say, and no one will notice, because December is still so far away. We’ve got time! But November comes and is choppy at best, a two-day week here and Thanksgiving break there (November is only four weeks as it is). And December’s even worse. But somehow, we only realize this when it’s too late–and in a flurry of last-minute tests and overhanging projects we really should’ve started in October–the three weeks of hell is born.
But it’s not just the dicey combination of short weeks and semester deadlines that cause these three weeks to be so awful–it’s the fact that there’s no escaping the stress. Normally during the more trying times of the year, we can count on the weekend to catch our breath, or at least a quiet afternoon here and there. Beyond school stressors in, say, mid-April, there’s not a whole lot else going on. But in December, the culmination of Christmas pressure that’s been building since mid-October is at an all-time high. Random relatives drop by for weekends at a time, Secret Santas and White Elephants cost us chunks of time we don’t really have to spend, and the pressure to be holly and jolly 24/7 can be just a little grating at times. The pressure to give the perfect gift or host the perfect party or whatever other superficial holiday stress society fabricates combined with the overwhelming academic load leaves most students between a festive rock and an intellectual hard place.
So you’d think, during the time of year with the maximum amount of stress and minimum amount of time (and sleep), that every waking moment would be spent in study, every spare minute utilized to chip away at the mountain of work due December 16th. And yet, I’d say the opposite is true–the amount of time wasted on our phones increases exponentially. We know we have barely enough time as is to get everything turned in on time, and yet we consciously cripple ourselves by spending hours on timesucks like Instagram, Snapchat, and–arguably the worst of the bunch–Netflix. Why do we do this to ourselves? What is it about the ready availability of all twelve seasons of Grey’s Anatomy that makes us forget about the eight-page APUSH paper we’ve got due tomorrow?
Well, if it’s any consolation, I don’t think it’s on purpose. For most of us, we are not trying to bring down our GPA every time we hit the “play next episode” button. Confronted with a staggering amount of work and running on very little sleep, Netflix (or Hulu, or Amazon Prime–pick your poison) becomes a temporary fix. It’s a way to push off all of the projects and quizzes, if only for forty minutes or so, because we don’t know where to even begin.
It’s more than simple procrastination, though. We know that in forty-eight short, commercial-free minutes, Rachel and Finn will get together again (for, like, the twelfth time), Olivia Pope will bring the US government back from the brink of some international fiasco, and Annalise Keating will, indeed, get away with murder. Problems are manufactured and solved within the span of a few episodes, if not sooner, with clear solutions and minimal consequences. For teenagers who feel as if the entirety of their life is up in the air and at the same time completely dependent on Friday’s Spanish test, this is a welcome relief. It’s not just a coincidence that peak TV-binging coincides with the most stressful times during the year. These marathon sessions of Glee or Bob’s Burgers serve a purpose, be it comedic relief, offering possible solutions to our real-life problems (although this depends on the show–please don’t take life advice from Family Guy), or giving us a little perspective on our own lives. And sometimes, after a day filled with DBQ’s, trig functions, and hours of practice after school, a little downtime is all you need, and what better way to do that than with a few episodes of your favorite show?
But when two or three episodes here and there turns into a season and a half at two in the morning, something’s got to give. Yes, there is a place for Gossip Girl marathons in our schedule, and rightfully so. Mental health and all that. But there has to be a balance. If watching Blair Waldorf struggle through a semester at NYU becomes the only way we deal with our own problems, something tells me that’s not going to end well. All the Chuck and Blair drama in the world couldn’t cancel out any real-life issues of our own. And while time might be passing with each forty-five minute episode we watch, that doesn’t mean anything’s getting done. Life’s not as easy as waiting out our problems.
So the next time we think about hitting that “play next episode” button, we have to ask ourselves why we’re doing it; are we simply taking a little mental break in between Calculus and Chemistry, or are we using as a means to hide from it all together? And while it might be too late to get back all of the hours spent on Netflix from these last three weeks of hell (I’ve got two and a half seasons of Glee to show for it)…
We’ve got finals in less than a month. 😉