What Stress is Worth it?
If you are or ever have been a student, then you have probably experienced stress at some point during your high school career. This stress affects some people far more than others, however I have no doubt that every human being alive today can name at least one stressful situation that they’ve had to endure recently. As humans, stress and stress responses are hard wired into our DNA, and as a result, we have numerous behavioral mechanisms, both physiological and psychological, that are prepared to help us combat this underrated epidemic.
The fight or flight response. This is something that we’ve all heard of and probably experienced before, so if you don’t mind, I am going to skip explaining all of the biological processes behind this phenomenon since I don’t particularly like science, and I would prefer to just move ahead to why stress = bad. According to the theory of fight or flight, we have two options when faced with a stressful situation, run away or tough it out. When I mention cutting stress out of your life, I don’t mean to just run away from every problem or test that starts to bug your brain; that would qualify as a “flight” reaction, and sometimes they can be just as emotionally taxing as a three and a half hour AP Physics exam. You see, running away from your problems can seem extremely beneficial at the time being, but there is an underlying effect that people rarely consider when fleeing from a problem… regret.
Oh regret, the sharp edged knife that cuts deep into our chest whenever we make a tough decision. Regret is arguably the most humane emotion that we experience, and it’s crippling. Regret lies heavy in the hearts of many and can drive madness into the minds of anyone who cannot bear the weight. “What if I had studied more for that test?” “What if I didn’t go out with my friends last night?” “What would have happened?” These questions make us all wish we had reset buttons that could turn back the clock, but since such an object has yet to be invented, we are forced to drudge through our doubts and uneasiness until we can move on. Sometimes that process takes minutes, hours, or days, and sometimes, weeks, months, or even years to complete, and still the memory of that heaviness remains in our hearts.
So, if fighting through stress is painful, but suffering through regret is equally torturous, then how do we win our battles against this pesky little devil? If you were expecting a clear answer, I hate to tell you this, but I don’t exactly have one.
Personally, I try to gauge my stress levels by prioritizing certain tasks, and letting go of my unreasonable expectations. By this, I mean choosing a few immediate goals and working to accomplish them one by one. Also, I have to accept that there are some things more important than tests, or essays, like my mental health, for example.
One way that I have gone about eliminating stress is by deciding what in my life matters most to me, especially when it comes to school. I know for a fact that I care far more about learning foreign languages and studying our government as opposed to science and math, so I decided to cut myself a little slack when it came to my grades in those latter subjects. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel that pang of panic before any test, no matter the subject, but I tell myself that it doesn’t matter that much in the end. I know, I know, I can feel the eye rolls from behind the screen, but this strategy has worked for me in the past.
Once I set my priorities, I started chopping away at my schedule. I knew that I wanted more time to read for pleasure, study my various languages, and keep up to date on basically everything on CNN, so this meant that looking up the results of the Indiana Presidential Primary and studying for my French exam took priority over spending countless hours reviewing the differences between RNA transcription and translation. I made sure I was familiar with those topics, but then I focused my attention elsewhere. I also decided that doing two sports at the same time competitively was just not going to work anymore. It was hard, and I definitely felt that annoying regret settling in for a bit, but in the end, I treasure those extra two hours I get everyday when I don’t need to drive 40 minutes to a sport that I simply don’t love the way I used to.
I had to realize that my life was going to be okay if I didn’t participate in everything. I wasn’t going to fail at life because I dropped from an AP science class down to an honors, and colleges were not going to reject me solely because I cut winter track out of my schedule. I’m still working on accepting these new changes into my life, but so far, I’m really enjoying the extra hours of sleep, and the clear mist that blocks out the panic when I take a math test. For me, this isn’t a flight response, it’s a fight. I had to sit down and really think about what I cared most about and what I could risk losing, I had to work through those feelings. I have determined where I want to go in this world, and found the most efficient way to get there.
My interests may change and fade with time as hobbies do, and so my priorities will develop along with them. Stress may be inevitable, but we can choose the extent to which we allow it to control our lives. If we enjoy our stressful activities, are we really stressed at all?