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Avigail Borah / Staff Illustrator

It’s 4:00 and my brain is fried. After spending all day on Butler’s fifth floor—arguably the worst place on campus—I need a pick-me-up.

I head down from my favorite reading room to Blue Java Café. I briefly consider buying a coffee, and then, almost out of habit, turn around and grab a bottle of kombucha—tart cherry. I only get this drink in dire circumstances; it’s a desperate attempt to feel better. I hand over the tart and fermented beverage to check out. $4.95 pops up on the register—I’ve spent nearly five dollars just to make the long and grueling hours in Butler feel a little bit better.

I know I don’t need to spend five bucks in order to concentrate better or study more efficiently. In the time it takes for me to take the elevator down to the second floor and wait in line to buy my drink, I’ve already lost my concentration anyway. On top of that, I should be more concerned about my looming research paper and quickly approaching final exams.

These are the concerns I think about when ordering the five-dollar kombucha. So why did I decide to spend the money? Maybe it’s the comfort the drink gives me, or maybe it’s the sugar rush.

Maybe it’s the placebo effect, because I’ve convinced myself that it gives me brain power, that the tart cherry makes me write my essay in five hours instead of six. Either way, I guess the result probably isn’t worth the money.

Yet I still turn to quick fixes to relieve my stress. A better way to clear my head may be to go for a walk or take a nap. But instead, I cough up five dollars as a band-aid for my mental exhaustion. Kombucha becomes like an elusive snake oil to me. A magic elixir that makes me feel energized and focused.

But something about paying for stress relief feels wrong.

I do it to “feel good,” even though I don't want to. I do other things as well—though they may be unhealthier than some additional sugar. I stay up extremely late doing my homework so I can go to sleep “stress-free.” I take on responsibilities that overwhelm me but make me feel accomplished. I take 18 credits to reassure myself that I will graduate on time. I take on too much work to build up my résumé. I pull all-nighters to feel the brief relief of having all of my work done.

Feeling stressed out, responding in counterproductive ways—this is a pattern. Stress for me is like a tumbling snowball—it gets bigger and bigger, becomes faster and faster, and accomplishment is the calm at the bottom of the hill. Stress is the $4.95 in Dining Dollars lost in ButCaf, the five-dollar transaction an inconvenient reality about this whole endeavor, enacted in order to embrace the sweet and fizzy kombucha that my worn-out brain cells crave.

While I think that kombucha helps me be a better student, I understand that this doesn’t make sense. Trading in Dining Dollars for a drink doesn’t magically make my brain kick into overdrive. The $4.95 that pops up on the Blue Java Café register is more than just an approaching sugar rush. It’s the all-nighters needed to get an A, the hundreds of pages of reading required in order to double major, the long nights in the library to maybe one day get a decent job. Buying kombucha has become such an ingrained habit that I don’t ever stop to ask myself: Is it all worth it?

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Stress Relief Self Care Kombucha Butler Five