On a college campus, it’s rare to go through a single day without a mention of stress. Whether you’re in the classroom or a dorm, the dining hall or the gym, the word seeps into conversations. If you’re a fellow student, try to make it through a day without hearing it or saying it yourself — that’s a test I don’t think I could pass.
This is not to say that students’ claims of being stressed all the time are exaggerated. Most often, in fact, complaints about a tough project or a frustrating class come from real places of exhaustion and anxiety. Between classes, social life, part-time jobs, and internships, students have a lot to juggle. However, it can be harmful to both the speaker and the listener when that stress becomes a primary focus of daily conversation with others.
Negativity doesn’t benefit anyone. Sure, we may leave a conversation feeling justified when another student agrees with our complaints about a particularly difficult test. But where does that get us? What kind of resolution are we provided? Most often, it’s only a temporary one, and after a short while, the stress returns with a vengeance because we believe it to be justified.
The solution is not to bottle it up.
Underplaying your stress can be as dangerous as exaggerating it. As social beings, whether we identify as introverts or extroverts, we all benefit from releasing our troubles rather than allowing them to sit and swell in our minds.
Some people find a release from stress in journaling. Emptying worries about assignments, essays, or deadlines on paper can be a way of relaxing the tension that those things create in our minds.
Others find the release they’re looking for in talking through their troubles with others. It is important to remember that there is nothing wrong with discussing our stress. When we do, though, we want to be sure we are talking about it in a way that relieves that stress rather than creates more of it.
Because we are so easily influenced by those around us, we must be careful not to breed an atmosphere of stress through our interactions with fellow students.
Examine the conditions surrounding our stress-talk.
Why do we talk about our stress?
Do we do it as a way to complain?
Are we looking for sympathy or a solution?
Is it a way of comparing ourselves to others?
When do we talk about our stress?
Do we find ourselves venting after every class?
Is it how we start each day? How we end each day?
Does it infiltrate our conversations on the weekends, too?
To whom do we talk about our stress?
Is it just close friends we talk about it with?
Do we relate to fellow students going through the same thing?
Do we open up to parents, teachers, or counselors about it?
How do we respond to others’ stress?
Do we listen attentively, or do we tend to zone-out?
Are we listening so that we can voice our own stresses afterward?
Do we show genuine concern or encourage more negativity in our response?
Be mindful of the way we talk about stress.
How we convey and discuss our stress can have a direct impact on how those stressful conditions affect us. Talking about it with others can be a great way to relieve some of the negative influence on us. It can be beneficial to get an outside perspective, because the closer we are to a problem, the bigger it seems.
The language we use to discuss stress is a great place to start. Using extremes such as “I hated that essay” or “I’m definitely going to fail this test,” has an immediate effect on how much we let our stress impact us. When we talk in that way, we foster the mindset that we are incapable of handling what’s been thrown at us, and both our self-esteem and attitude toward our work can suffer because of it.
But when we convey our struggles in language that appropriately and accurately defines them, we have better control over them. Negative self-talk, especially when expressed outwardly, can have an impact on academic performance. The more we say something, even if there is no truth in it, the more likely we are to start believing it ourselves.
In order to combat this, we must start being mindful of our language again. We can express frustration and doubt without condemning ourselves and others.
Instead of generalizing, try to pinpoint what it is about the upcoming test that makes you anxious. Maybe it’s because you have a busy week ahead, and you don’t know if you’ll have enough time to study. Maybe you’re behind on readings, and so you’re confused with the concepts.
When we start specifying, we open the door to finding solutions. There is no solution to “I’m going to fail,” expect maybe, “don’t fail” (which isn’t very helpful advice). But when we express confusion about a question on the study guide or concern over the structure of an essay, we allow others the opportunity to offer concrete, issue-oriented help.
In doing this, we break through the negativity and strengthen our connections with those around us in the process.