Dealing with Stress in College

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Everyone gets stressed. Or at least every human gets stressed. It’s a good feeling to have, but not exactly a good one to feel. It reminds you what you have to do and the significance of doing it right. Stress is good until it screws up what you’re trying to do.

However, that was more for our ancestors, keeping us alert when we thought predators were nearby. It’s a bit harder to focus on a test when you can barely breath properly. You can sneak by without dealing directly with stress pretty easily in high school. The workloads can be brutal, but at the end of the day classes aren’t designed to potentially give you a 40 (except for my honors chemistry class, I hated that class)

College is the perfect storm of stress though. The difficulty jumps up to a whole new level and its entirely up to you on how to approach the problem. Do you not go to your 8 AM classes so your not as tired? Or do you skip your night class so you can go to bed at a reasonable hour? And that’s just classes. Imagine a part time job, relationships, sanity, all that can really add up.

Stress is as common as the common cold on a campus. Most people just kinda ride the waves, only really freaking out when Finals come and other major tests. Is there a cure doc? Meh, depends on who you are.

I know a girl who would just bounce a volleyball on a wall for a couple minutes and completely simmer down. As her neighbor I could hear every single instance and would shoot out a quick, “What’s wrong?” text until it stopped. I tried something similar in retaliation with a football, but it worked me up more than anything. At one point I was pretty sure the wall was going to give in before my stress. Sometimes all you really need is that small activity once in a while to set things straight. If there is a basketball near me, I’ll throw it up in the air and catch it. Nothing revolutionary, just a nice feeling.

Some find that one athletic activity that gets their mind off things. Weightlifting makes you feel more powerful and in control. Nothing feels better than letting out all your frustration on a barbell stacked with weight. If you can move it, then you can do anything. Running and other cardio workouts can give you the time to either work out what you’re going through or give you that clear head you need to resolve what you need to. Sports as a whole can encompass either of the above and usually include that added social element. Even during finals, my roommates and I would find the time to play basketball. Trash-talk is a great release is all I’m saying and plenty social.

Being social is something I’ve never been good at, but socializing can be that exact mental break one needs. Being around other people you enjoy being around, especially those who are more positive can really alter your perspective on things. Whether it be talking about what is stressing you out or shooting the shit with your buddies can do wonders. Sometimes stress reaches the point where it consumes you and all that is needed is a step-back. People (and animals) are pretty good at helping others out in their time of need.

A more unusual approach I came across in college is meditation. Now I’m not saying you need to give up on all earthly possessions and shave your head. All it really is is taking 10-15 minutes where you sit in silence, taking deep breaths, and not think about anything. It gives your head a little break from a day full of stimulation and constant nagging. It is not an end all cure and it won’t make you some sort of enlightened person, but a little “mind time” never hurt.

Not all stress releases are good though. Some people have a release that works once for them and it becomes their crutch. In the long run they may hurt more than the stress being dealt with.

A vast majority of kids drink and smoke until they don’t remember why they were even worried in the first place. There are plenty of reasons why this is not the best approach, but sometimes the biggest hindrance is stress itself. My friend’s best papers were written while he was not sober. He’d stress over his diction and grammar when he wasn’t smoking, but once he was in the right state of mind, he’d just let his ideas flow out. It reached the point where he required to be high to do homework. God forbid he ran out of weed, the kid would come to a complete halt academically and it was pretty pathetic. Alcohol and drugs are okay if its a one and done kind of arrangement, but reaching the point where they become a necessity is never a good sign.

Others just live with it. Every second is stressful, yet what’s the harm? Yesterday I was stressed so what does it matter if it continues? Riding out stress is a brutal habit I had early in high school. Why deal with the stress if I was gonna get stressed the very next day. I rode the wave of stress and did not do shit to stop it. I’m not going to say it was the worst option, it did get me through some rough patches, but man did it suck. Life was just a blur at the time and the only constant in my life seemed to be the stress. It’s not a part of my life I look back at fondly.

There are definitely other ways to deal with stress out there. I’m sure I’m forgetting a good chunk of methods. Feel free to share your own and who knows maybe I’ll pick it up too. Stress sucks, but it’s not an impossible solution. We’re only human.

The Importance of Planning Ahead

Growing up, I was decent at school. I had above average grades, but I mucked about like any of my friends. From a distance it would be difficult to understand why I was so much better with my grades compared to my “under-performing” peers. Do I think I was smarter than them? No, not really. After all, I once tried breaking up a random fight I had not dog in. I’m probably on the dumber side of the population if anything.

What I did do well was plan. I was extremely rigid about it as well. If I missed even 5 minutes of studying, I’d remove my break time and study more. Punctuality was a consequence of my planning, nothing more. Every semester I’d plan my day down to 15 minutes and barely enough flexibility to keep me sane. Whenever I got a new class or job, I’d throw out my old schedule and make something completely different. Deviation from the schedule was intolerable, but there were instances of me doing so without my consent. However, I did everything in my power to avoid such horrible tragedies. One of my most embarrassing secrets is that I did a fairly good job of studying other people’s tendencies and schedules and factored that into my own. “No I can’t go get food at 6 because I’ll see Tom on the way and I’ll have to listen to him for hours”. In a perfect world, everything would have been like I was one of those super villains watching the hero beat up their thugs and saying, “It’s all going according to plan”.

Now the most obvious reason for why I planned so much was because of my household, but that was not the case in the slightest. My parents were not helicopter parents, they never asked about them. They were always impressed when they’d see my grades at the end of the year and how I managed to do anything else in the meantime. Deep-down the planning obsession was all mine. It was not healthy.

Why did I start or care about schedules so much? I can’t be certain, but it’s probably the control. Life is a bunch of random event occurring one after another. Each day has new problems along with older ones that still linger. Planning gave me that cathartic release from the stress of my life. Frankly there was not that much happening in my life at any one given moment, but that single ounce of stress made me want a life completely filled with.

The schedule became worse than the stress than the stress being mitigated. Missing one study period to hang out with friends sent me into a frenzy all-nighter to recover. I was always checking my phone to make sure I did not miss my 5 PM break-time. Yup, I reached the point where missing my time intended for relaxing was stressing me out. Don’t get me wrong, I stuck to the schedule probably around 90% of the time. However, I forgot to factor in two things.

First I’m human. Sometimes it would take me 32 minutes to learn something even though I only allocated 30 minutes. Spotting a random guy at the gym added 5 minutes to my workout time and I cursed him out the entire drive back in my car. Also, always doing the same things at certain times really grinds you down eventually. No one likes being in a rut, but the schedule made the rut. How could I plan to not be in a rut, when planning was what threw me in it to begin with? The mind needs to be stimulated and after a while it’ll figure out your everyday patterns.

The second was that life has too many variations. How could I possibly know that my grandparents were moving in the summer and therefore need me to help move their stuff instead of working more hours at my summer job? How could I have known that the girl living in the dorm suite next to me was going to have an emotional collapse and need at least 3 people to help her through it? The schedule did not always have the answers. It could account for the mundane stuff, but outliers completely screwed it up.

Schedules are good in determining what you know you need to get done and figuring out how much time you have to do it. However, they shouldn’t become your personal Bible. I still make schedules, but now I place much more flexible hours to allow for unexpected events. If I miss some time for studying, well I guess I’ll just have to study harder later.

Maybe I shouldn’t be having these thoughts right before finals though…