This week, I started my senior year of high school through an online high school program. It’s quite interesting: the teachers speak to us on camera, much like on Skype, and we can “raise our hands” and come on camera to share our ideas, or pose questions in a group chat-box on the screen. So far, I’ve been impressed with the caliber of teachers and students, and I’m excited for an academically stimulating year!
Unfortunately, this excitement is accompanied by a considerable amount of stress. As a senior, I’m going through the college application process (again), but this time with the understanding that I must choose a college at the end of this year, as well as prepare for the possibility that I do not get into the schools I aspire to. Oh, the essays to write, the books to read, on top of the podcast episodes to produce for my project, Brainstorms (coming soon!)!
I’ve rarely felt this stressed out before, and I can tell that it’s taking a toll on my sleep and creating tension in my muscles. (The physical manifestations of my mental states will never fail to surprise me, no matter how often I read about the mind-body connection). Knowing that the circumstances of my workload will persist for the next few months, I’ve been considering some ways in which to destress.
I want to talk about what it means to destress, because I think there’s a surprising level of ambiguity surrounding it. There are so many different terms surrounding stress: stress management, dealing with stress, distressing, letting go of stress, living with stress, relaxing in the face of stress. Though we use the terms interchangeably, there’s certainly a significant difference between “stress management” and “letting go of stress.” The former implies living with a certain degree of stress, and functioning within a stressful mindset. The latter indicates an absolution of stress itself.
The latter option sounds so much more appealing, because it promises relaxation and the release from stress and anxiety. Nonetheless, I believe there is something to be said for stress as a catalyst for hard work and persistence. In order to accomplish our goals and contribute to society and others, we must experience a motivating force to push us into action. Ideally, all of our actions would be motivated by compassion and an intrinsic feeling of enjoyment in all activities, but realistically, there are things we must do for ourselves and others that we simply don’t want to. This requires other motivations, and I believe that stress is a necessary way to remind ourselves of the things we must do in life for their eventual rewards.
It’s a delicate balance; we want to live in the moment and present, but there are laudable goals and missions that can only be achieved with hard work and persistence over the long-term. Stress is not conducive with meditation, for example, but it is a necessary feeling when an important deadline is approaching on a humanitarian or artistic project.
For me, I think dealing with stress is all about allocating time. There are times in the day when I must let my stress express itself, to motivate my work and inform my workday. When I can finish tasks and accomplish things, my stress is absolved by my work. Stress becomes dangerous and harmful when it pervades every moment, and this is where I find my own downfall. Even when I am not working, and have no ability to work, I am stressing about the things I could be getting done, or need to do at a future time. It is in these moments that I need to learn to eliminate stress, because I cannot absolve the stress through any present action.
I am trying- and not always succeeding- to let go of stress at certain times, such as those spent reading novels or cooking. In these moments, I tell myself that the stress is not productive, and can only hurt my body. This year, I foresee myself on a grand journey of learning how to discriminate between times when stress is useful, and when it is only harmful to my mind and body. Personally, I believe that scheduling my days and work more precisely will actually liberate me from the constant feeling of stress, because productive time will be set aside. But, for you, it may be the other way around; schedules can suffocate some people with even more stress, even if they are liberating for me.
We must remember that stress is not inherently evil; it is only pernicious when it lingers beyond its proper time and use.
How do you cope with stress, and use it to your advantage without letting it harm your psyche and body? Do you think there is a healthy level of stress, and if so, how would you define it?