Let’s talk about secondhand stress. With exams coming up, it’s easy to think of times when you’ve been near a stressed-out person and left feeling that all-too familiar tension in your chest.
We glorify industriousness to the point of sacrifice, romanticizing “the grind” and working excessively long workweeks. It almost seems like we enjoy feeling stressed out, taking it as a sign that we’ve been working hard.
Stress is not a mandatory part of academic success. In fact, chronic stress negatively impacts your memory; stress makes academic success harder.
Our generation has this toxic habit of trying to one-up another when it comes to productivity: you only slept five hours? Your friend only slept three and feels compelled to tell you how easy you have it. You’re stressed out about three exams? They have five and their pet hamster is ill.
I invite you all to follow a very simple but apparently difficult direction: stop it.
Not only is it wildly invalidating to diminish the struggles of others and glorify unhealthy habits, it also does nothing for anyone involved. Nobody leaves one of these interactions feeling better. You both exit the conversation feeling stressed out.
It can be hard to tell the difference between venting your frustrations and stewing in negativity. There are two important questions to ask yourself in order to differentiate: will this help me feel better? Could this make them feel worse?
It’s unlikely that you’re consciously making your friends feel stressed out, but it’s still a possibility. Nobody wants to add more on the backs of their friends.
The cool thing is, you get to help them while helping yourself. If you can manage your stress in healthy ways, you’re less likely to expose friends to secondhand stress. You can also help them find sustainable stress management techniques, too.
Treating the cause of the stress can be helpful: just why are you feeling so stressed? What can you do to address that cause?
If there isn’t much you can do to remove the stressor, like finals, you can manage your symptoms. Take breaks from studying. Get some sleep – real sleep, not a ten-minute nap followed by an energy drink. Eat healthy. Take time to do things that make you feel good.
Most importantly, allow yourself perspective. It can feel like exams are the end of the world. On the bright side, if the zombie apocalypse breaks out, you’ll be too busy searching for a cure to worry about your Accounting final. More likely than that, you’ll pass or you won’t and you can adjust your educational path accordingly.
For many of us, being a student is the only life we’ve known. From kindergarten to elementary school, then high school and university, we have never not been students. Not knowing much about what waits beyond grad puts incredible pressure on us to set ourselves up for success as much as possible – get the grades, fill out your extra curricular involvement, volunteer, pay off your tuition, network in the industry – even though we can’t fully know yet what that success is going to look like.
The world is chaos and the future is uncertain. Maybe you’ll graduate with honours. Maybe the sun will explode next year. Regardless, it doesn’t make sense to destroy your health now for a hypothetical future.
School matters. But you matter more. Your well-being and that of those around you matters more.