Let’s reconsider our stress


By Melinda Xu, Co-Managing-Editor

Here at ’Stoga, we love talking about stress. Whether it’s comparing the amount of hours we’ve slept in the past week (the lower the better!) or listing the number of tests we have in one day (math quiz, English in-class write, science test, etc., etc.), the s-word is always on the tip of our tongues. 

This fixation on stress — and all of its associated unhealthy effects, from decreasing immune system strength to increasing chances of heart disease — has created a growing sense that something is wrong. In response, there’s been a rising movement to reduce stress, with measures such as limiting AP courses being floated around. More than blaming external factors, however, stress reduction should start with changing our own mentality to the idea of stress.

First, we need to stop embracing stress so much. And when I say embracing, I really mean complaining. Because although complaining is supposed to showcase how much we hate stress, it’s turned into a game of one-upmanship. You slept five hours yesterday? Well, I slept four. Oh, you pulled an all nighter? Well, I didn’t sleep at all last week. 

I am definitely guilty of this type of not-so-subtle competition. After a late night of doing homework or cramming for an essay, it feels rewarding to rant about how STRESSED I am to friends. But lately I’ve realized how harmful this pervasive habit of complaining has become. 

Instead of discouraging stress, complaining about stress has created a culture where we secretly idolize it for how bad it is. Ironically, this actually worsens our stress because it creates incentives to feel more stressed out. Being stressed out then makes us complain more, and the cycle continues. In the end, we’re left with not just an increased stress level, but also a heightened feeling of its negative impacts. It’s an inflation of perception, not reality.

And how we perceive the symptoms of stress can actually change how it affects us. According to health psychologist and Stanford lecturer Kelly McGonigal, only those that perceived stress as bad suffered adverse effects on life expectancy. In fact, in a study done by Harvard University, participants taught to view the physical effects of stress — pounding heart, sweaty palms — as indicators of the body getting energized and prepared to face oncoming challenge not only felt less stressed when given a math test with a purposefully mean examiner, but also displayed relaxed blood vessels similar to those seen in moments of joy. 

So next time you find yourself complaining about your test, take a moment to close your eyes and reorient yourself. Are you genuinely stressed out, or are you just trying to seem more stressed to fit in with ’Stoga’s hustle culture? And if the stress is real — which it often is because, let’s be honest, tests and classes are stressful — then take a moment to try and change your perception of what it means. You’re stressed because your body is preparing itself to write that paper, to take that test — and to ultimately ace it.  

Cocoro Kambayashi/The SPOKE

Melinda Xu can be reached at [email protected].