Why so tense? A perspective on stress and solutions

By John Linderman

Elm Staff Writer


RelaxationStress is not one direct emotion but rather an umbrella, or more accurately a storm. Some examples include a looming deadline and you little work is done, a friend is continuing their bad habit, or you just had some kind of snack that your inner-nutritionist would scoff at. This escapes us as anger, isolation, terseness, and bitterness.

I do not mean to lecture you on Feelings 101, but context is always needed before talking about solutions. What’s even the deal with stress?

The fact of the matter is that college students face an elephantine amount of it. The American Psychological Association reports that 61% of students admit anxiety when first seeing a counselor, followed by 49% with depression, and 45% with stress. At the same time, can’t stress also express itself through anxiety and depression? What we’re dealing with here is larger and more dangerous than we can admit to label and classify. Here are five ways to deal with stress:

Friends. Associates. Comrades. Humans in whom we have a non-familial interest. We don’t even have to directly talk about stress to our friends to know how great it feels to fit into a group. I would go so far as to say that our groups provide more than comfort, they provide meaningfulness. In an information-saturated world bleeding with statistics and nihilism, just being with your group and going places, eating, partying, and making memes is somewhere between cathartic and our true niche.

Hobbies, old and new. When you may find yourself in a particularly difficult time, for any reason, one thing that may help is continuing current hobbies or re-discovering old ones. Remember that old show you loved watching for the first time? Give it another go, and pick up on all the things you missed and glanced over. Feel stuck with personal development? Continue a hobby you’re passionate about, be it exercise, art, reading, or anything that feels like good, patient work. Feeling useful in the present can relieve the mind, and although temporal, can be fulfilling.

Counseling. When I mentioned the above statistic on anxiety and stress, all those students did one thing that separates them from planet Earth and a pit of despair: reaching out. Therapy, psychiatry, and counseling have all slowly been de-stigmatized thanks to public effort and education, and the work is paying off. According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, 42% of American adults have seen a social worker, and 36% haven’t but would be open to it. This is a great leap from decades of “shame and weakness” associated with going to a therapist or counselor. The myth of weakness associated with counseling is dead, and Washington College provides free counseling to all students via an appointment with Health Services.

Adventure. This point goes hand-in-hand with friends, since a group is always necessary for a great adventure. There’s a popular African proverb that states, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In the same way, going far with friends can not only be counted with hours and miles, but moments and memories. New places, food, people, and environments can detach us from toxic thoughts or ideas that keep us in foxholes of stress. Never go into adventure with apathy, think like a hobbit; “I’m going on an adventure.”

Meditation. I leave this one last because it can become more of a practice than realization. Meditating takes real effort and discipline, but like most practices, it pays off. Taking time to turn off what some Buddhists call the “monkey mind” can focus our attention to sources of stress in our life. In 2019, we are bombarded with posts, articles, updates, and texts strung together by Wi-Fi, but turning everything off, even for 10 minutes, may result in confounding conclusions about ourselves. It can feel jarring and pointless at first, but experimenting with the state of nothingness against the default banality of tweets and likes can feel revolutionary.

Now that the censer of knowledge has been lit, I’ll finish with a quote by Nigerian author Ufuoma Apoki;

“Patience, my friend;

Once again, I say, Patience.

In an era ‘plagued’ with speed, doggedness of character and drudgery of persistence is the only guarantee to mastery.”

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