By Emily Temple, The Whetstone
Every semester seems to start out the same way.
I look at the responsibilities on my plate. I take a deep breath. I confidently assure myself that this time, I’ve definitely got a handle on anything life can throw at me.
Then, within a few short weeks, I start drowning.
It’s taken me a while to notice the pattern, and even longer to realize why it keeps happening. It’s my last semester at Wesley, and even if I can’t completely ease the burden on myself in these last few months, I can attempt to pass on what I’ve learned about stress, responsibility, and keeping your head above water.
First: If you take on any amount of responsibility, stress is inevitable.
College is, in and of itself, a responsibility—you can’t escape stress while you’re here, no matter what measures you take. If you apply yourself to any degree, you’ll be dealing with some level of stress. Even just being here, knowing that debt is right around the corner, is stressful enough.
To be clear: a little stress is not a bad thing. Positive stress can actually be a really good motivator for a lot of students. It keeps you focused on the task at hand, and pushes you to finish your homework on time or study for a big test.
If you’re like me, this stress is the reason you procrastinate—you know you work better at the last minute when pressures are high, and disrupting that pattern just seems like an unnecessary waste of time and effort. Once things are down to the wire, you can concentrate on one thing and really feel like the job is getting done.
But this “good stress” only goes so far. It’s good to take on responsibility and deal with the pressures of college life, but it’s also important to know your limits.
Even if you can’t avoid stress, there are ways to limit how it impacts your life.
This brings me to point two: It’s okay to say “no.”
I know; you might want to take advantage of every opportunity thrown your way, and turning something down could lead to any number of unforeseeable consequences.
Not to mention, there’s a lot of pressure not to disappoint those around you when they ask you to help with something.
There are some things that you can’t exactly avoid in college, like projects and studying for exams, but those should usually remain part of the “positive stress” category. When you take on further responsibilities, it’s time to think about what really matters to you, as well as what you’re really capable of.
As a media arts major, sometimes I’m asked to design fliers and graphics for organizations that I am a part of, and most of the time, the “Yes” answer is automatic, almost beyond my control.
(Of course that isn’t true; I’m the only one who can control my own decisions.)
But even knowing that I don’t have the time to take on a project, I promise myself that I can manage to squeeze it somewhere into my schedule, and promise whoever asks me that I am completely prepared to take on the project.
From experience, it feels a lot worse to fail to follow through on a promise like this than it does to not make the promise in the first place.
If the solution was as easy as isolating the mistakes, learning from them, and moving on, college life would be a lot simpler.
But when these things pile up, that’s just another source of stress that needs to be dealt with. If you nip it in the bud, and learn to prioritize the projects you can and can’t handle before you take on new ones, you can save yourself a lot of stress and apply yourself more successfully to the tasks you do commit yourself to.
I am definitely not an example to follow here; I still have a lot of trouble saying “no” when I know someone is relying on me.
But if there’s one thing that has helped me work on this problem, it’s my third point: The people who rely on you for help are also relying on you to take care of yourself.
Whether it’s a friend asking you to spend some time with them over the weekend when you have massive amounts of work you need to catch up on, or an organization leader asking you to take on some extra responsibility when you’re already put under other pressures, the people in your life don’t want you to sacrifice your well-being for their sake.
If you’re overwhelmed, adding more stress to your life isn’t going to help anyone.
Ultimately, you know best what is healthy for yourself. And this is a matter of health; even though stress can sound like an abstract problem that you can just will away, the effects of long-term stress will wear away at your health as a whole.
If you feel like things are becoming overwhelming, trust that feeling and find the help that works for you, whether that means relaxing more by yourself, talking to a friend, or seeking help from a counselor.