The truth about stress

As a full-time college student, I can attest to the tremendous pressure that is placed on today’s youth. Students are sometimes pushed to achieve lofty goals from family and educators, but the worst burden may be their own drive to succeed. In a competitive world that values a prestigious career and a top-notch education, students push themselves to meet high expectations in a cutthroat race to the top.

This passionate motivation of young people is definitely encouraging. However, everything comes at a price. Trying to make it in a challenging world filled with go-getters and dreamers alike can be stressful. College life is extremely overwhelming. Between the hundred pages or so of reading for class, multiple problem sets, responsibilities for extracurricular activities, and daily errands, there never seems to be an escape in sight for today’s students. With time being precious, they often find themselves in a rut of monotonous schedules, chugging away nonstop from one task or chore to the next.

Unfortunately, stress is just an inevitable part of life. According to a 2012 study by the American Psychology Association, three-fourths of Americans claim to have experienced the same or increasing amounts of stress for the last five years. The survey also reported that people are stressed by a variety of factors, including money, work, relationships, family responsibilities, and even the economy. With stress clearly being omnipresent, it is important for students to understand both the benefits and hazards of stress in their lives.

To begin with, stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Stress, in moderation, is often crucial to anyone’s success. Sometimes, we need a little stress in our lives in order to keep us on our toes. It gives us the ability to care about our current situation. Growing up, I always stressed over exams. Looking back, I realize that the stress meant that I cared about my own personal success. And while the stress definitely made me uneasy, it spurred me on to graduate high school and be accepted to college.

Additionally, stress can help build character. Sometimes a little bit can motivate us to push through the hardship or work harder. There are even certain people who function at their best when they are stressed. I tend to be more productive, more alert, and more efficient when I am under a little bit of stress. When I have a lot of schoolwork, I do get a bit stressed out about how I am going to finish all my work on time. I find that this type of stress is motivational. To deal with it, I always make a “game plan,” schedules and to-do lists to organize myself. Thus, assignments that would have been completed a lot slower if I hadn’t been under stress are finished much faster. Furthermore, it is often rewarding when you overcome a stressful situation.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that an extreme amount of stress is detrimental. Chronic stress has been shown to lead to eating disorders, disruptive sleep patterns, a weak immune system, and other health complications. (My mother always knows when I am under a lot of stress just by counting the zits on my forehead!) Being able to pinpoint the cause of your stress, finding solutions to limit it, and coping with difficult circumstances are skills everyone should develop. Learning how to alleviate stress can help you lead a more productive and fulfilling life.

There are many ways to “de-stress” when the going gets tough. If possible, try to remove yourself from the stressful situation temporarily. Some people find their comfort in nature, taking walks outside, or sitting at the park. Others discover their solace in solitary, calm activities like reading, listening to music, or watching movies. There are even those who turn to physical activities like exercising to help alleviate their stress.

I often find the best way for me to deal with my stress is to talk to someone. Look for a support group, people who care about you and that you can trust. I found my listening ears within my family. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals, if you feel like too much is going on. Most schools offer mental health services free of charge and will be more than happy to schedule an appointment for you with the campus psychologist. I have made a couple visits to my school’s psychologist and found it extremely helpful.

Everyone needs to take a break once in a while. A break might entail five minutes for some and might mean a few weeks for others.

Experiment to find out what is the most effective way for you to deal with stress.

You will find that it can greatly improve your happiness and your ability to deal with life’s ups and downs.

Aglaia Ho is a freshman at Williams College and a native New Yorker.