Author: Francesca Flamini
As a high school student I tend to get stressed out a lot. It seems like every time I have all my work under control one of my teachers decides to throw in a ten page essay just for kicks. After multiple experiments with procrastinating until the last minute, throwing papers together right before school, and freaking out in between class periods, I knew my stress was getting bad. Not only was it affecting my grades, but it was impacting my mental health and emotional state. I knew I had to do something about it.
I’m the kind of person who wants to fix all my problems in the easiest, quickest way possible. So naturally I browsed Amazon. I got color coded folders, a planner, colorful pens, anything I thought would help me stay organized and focused. My complicated system was working perfectly, until end of the year finals rolled around. Over the course of the following weeks my classmates and I were handed packets upon packets of studying material and worksheets. My carefully color coded folders were overflowing with papers, spilling into my backpack. I found myself frantically shoving papers from the red folder into the blue and listening to my french textbook PDF at lunch instead of eating. Needless to say, I was more stressed out than ever. And I realized all my “solutions” to my stress were reliant on me being an organized person (which I’m not). I wanted to look into deeper solutions to stress management, so maybe next year I wouldn’t have to rely on folders to keep my sanity at school. If you’ve ever looked up how to deal with stress, you probably know how disappointed I felt when I saw some of the leading hospitals and medical programs in the nation telling me that it was as simple as getting more sleep, or managing my time. I wanted to know more about the science behind stress. From my thorough google searches, I learned that stress happens when your body feels like it's under attack. This triggers your body's fight or flight response which then causes it to release hormones and chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol.
After learning this I didn’t feel any better about handling my stress (except for maybe being able to answer a question on my next chemistry final). I was feeling pretty defeated. I had searched every question I had about stress and found nothing to help me. While I was searching my many questions, google must have felt my struggle because in my Youtube recommended section, I found Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and Stanford lecturers' Ted Talk. The talk is called “How to make stress your friend”. I skeptically clicked on the video expecting her to tell me to start a stress diary or drink more water, but what I got instead was an actual understanding of my stress and what to do about it. I highly recommend watching the talk because it explains it much better than I can, but here are the main things I took away from it. The stigma that stress is bad for you is just that: a stigma. Stress is not bad for you, stress is your body preparing you to handle the things you’re stressed about. By viewing your stress as helpful and not a sign that you are overwhelmed, your body believes it too and you stay calmer. I know, I just told you one of the things you least wanted to hear- "it's all in your head". But studies have found that stress only affects you negatively when you think that it will. This changed my whole entire outlook on stress. I was so captivated by this that the next day I asked some friends what they thought of stress being a good thing. One of my friends put it very eloquently. She said that whenever she felt stress about something, instead of giving in to the negative nature of stress, she worked through that feeling. She said some of her best work is done in her most stressed state.
After watching the TED Talk and hearing some of my friend’s thoughts, I decided to try to work through my stress instead of getting wrapped up in it. So while I was studying for my last final I decided every time I was feeling stressed, I would channel those emotions into focus and think of it as a positive. I ended up studying for three hours straight (something that was very rare for me). I ended up getting my best score on that final (in a subject I’m not the best at). Now that I have a positive connotation with stress, I don’t get it as much. I also get a lot more done in a shorter amount of time. Although this has been a great solution for me, I’m still keeping my color coded folders just in case.
TEDtalksDirector. YouTube, YouTube, 4 Sept. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU&t=488s&index=2&list=PLfxK08mfoVvpqASJAAo49ysW0nELQMJTZ.
“What Is Stress? Symptoms, Signs & More.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress.