The motivating power of college pressure and stress

By Katy Stang |

It was 11 p.m. on a Thursday night and I, a 20 year-old college junior, was sitting in the library sobbing uncontrollably while editing a class project. Now, I know what you are thinking and no, I am not an emotional fool. It was something else. I had hit my metaphorical wall. The wall that appears when you have reached the limit of stress and utter BS that you are drowning in, and boy was I drowning.

Six classes with two part-time jobs, my head was barely out of the water, but I’m not the only one.

Every semester hundreds of thousands of students flock to university and college campuses and are faced with this mounting pressure to get their degrees. Many are also sinking deeper into debt to attend these institutions, while job prospects after school continue to look bleak. Are you feeling stressed yet?

If so, then you are probably experiencing the consistent anxiety that one out of five college students face constantly. In a survey conducted by The Associated Press, nearly one in five undergraduates has considered dropping out due to college pressures. While stress may seem insignificant, the survey also found the repercussions of stress should not be taken lightly, with one out of 10 undergraduate students seriously considering suicide.

Nevertheless, there has to be a middle ground. No one would complete college if there was such a high risk of suicide or there wasn’t a payoff in the end. When researching how to combat stress, the same answers appear: “try meditation,” “picture yourself relaxed,” or “look around you.” I’m sorry, but if you have seen my schedule you would know I have virtually no time for casual observation.

So what do I do? Should I go talk to a counselor about my stress? Once again, I have no time for that. Should I stop caring so much about classes? Well, if I’m going to get in $30,000 plus worth of debt, I feel like I should at least care about the hole I’m digging myself.

But something occurred to me. As much as we talk and view stress as a negative deterrent of college life, we overlook that it can be used in other ways. For me, stress became a motivator. I used all of that anxiety to pile-drive my way through dozens of essays, projects and pointless group meetings.

For others, yoga or some other form of relaxation works. In an article in Newsweek, Dr. Janet DiPietro, a professor of developmental psychology, stated that, “The public has gotten such a uniform message that stress is always harmful and that’s too bad, because most people do their best under mild to moderate stress.”

If you’re like my friend Sarah, being busy motivated her to get things done to avoid stress. All through her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees, she worked multiple jobs to come out debt free. She said that by having only a limited window in which to do homework forced her to stay caught up and thus, she actually obtained better grades.

By using stress as a inspirational tool, she and I were both able to gain a grasp on our life and accomplish a lot more than if we wouldn’t have had that attitude. Not to say that we both didn’t stumble. Mine came by sobbing in a computer lab at night, causing some of the librarians to look at me funny to this day. For Sarah, hers came with an almost $200 speeding ticket.

But it’s not all bad news. In the same survey from the Associated Press, six out of 10 undergraduate students also said they are, “usually hopeful and enjoy life.” It seems like more students are being able to cope and come back from the harms of stress and enjoy their college experience. That’s not to say that there aren’t still disgustingly high rates of college suicides, but by viewing that pressure from a different angle and using it in a unique way, those feelings might be eliminated.

Maybe managing stress that way won’t solve all of the problems, but at least it will combat those late night library tears.

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