Stress Test

Today I finally got my midterm returned for my Ancient Cultures of the Near East Anthropology class.  It was a take home essay question, five pages long, and we turned them in at the beginning of October, so I’ve been waiting almost two months to find out what grade I received, and stressing the entire time.

I hadn’t proofed the paper because I literally had a few hours to write it.  In my opinion, my thoughts were all over the place, I rambled, spoke a lot in the first person — it was meant to be an opinion essay but I know in general first person POV in any formal essay is frowned upon, and as if the cherry on top of this disastrous sundae, I spelled my teacher’s name wrong.  I was convinced I failed, prayed for a “C” at least, but couldn’t bring myself to hope for much better.

When the paper was handed back, I tucked it quickly into my backpack to avoid looking at the grade…I know, I know, I waited so long and now I had the grade in my hand and I wasn’t even going to look at it, what the hell is wrong with me, but I have a very simple philosophy when it comes to grades: I’d rather cry at home.

So what did I receive for all my stress and pessimism?

Did I mention I’d rather dance at home too?

This isn’t the first time I’d worried myself sick over a grade, only to be pleasantly surprised that all my worry was for naught, it’s not even the first time this semester.  But my grades aren’t all beautiful perfect scores, in fact, when I was a little one, way back in my high school and middle school years, I was best  known for my perfect flops — straight “F’s” and “D’s”, every so often a “C”, I was lucky to graduate.

The difference between now and then?  I never stressed over my grades before.

In fact, I find that I do far better on the assignments and tests I stress most over than the assignments and tests I don’t stress over at all.

In contemporary life, we’re often told not to stress.  A lot of the negative aspects of too much stressing are constantly being propagated in the media.  We’re told that it leads to ulcers, heartburn, heart attacks, insomnia, and early death, just to name a few and while all of this is true, we overlook the qualifier in these statements: too much.

But is stress, in minimal amounts, really all that bad for you?  

All of this emphasis on the negative impact of stress really just causes us to stress about stress, I’m stressed so does that mean I’m too stressed.  However, in some ways, not stressing enough can be almost as detrimental as stressing too much.  It can lead to low motivation, low self-esteem, unhealthy habits — like overeating and not exercising, even depression, and of course, bad grades.

So what is stress?

Looking at this picture causes both stress *and* seizures.

Personally, I think the answer to that question might be better understood by addressing this other question:

“Why do I stress in the first place?”

I stress over things I care about.  I stress over assignments because I now care about my grades, whereas in high school, I cared about the bell ringing so I could go home and watch television.  No stress there.  I also stress over my writing and my art (because they are a direct access point into my heart and soul, and if you don’t care about your heart and soul, then you’ve got way more problems then stress), my job (because I like money and I care about paying my rent), my blog (because I care about whether people will “Like” my posts, otherwise, what am I posting them for?), my family, my pets, my…so on and so forth.

So perhaps stress is intrinsically tied to caring.  Then how about this as a definition of stress: stress is a reaction to the action, inaction, or eventual action, current or future well-being of something or someone with which a person has an emotional investment in.

Using this as a definition of stress, then stress can be used to serve a crucial function in your everyday life.  It can help you to identify when you care about something or when you’re not caring about something enough and that maybe you need to change something.

In this sense, stress can be good for you.

If I’m not stressing over my grades, then that could very well mean that I don’t care about my grades, and that might be a warning sign that either I need to start caring (and stressing) or I need to drop out of school.  If I’m not stressing over my writing, well then, maybe I don’t care about my writing as much as I should, and if you don’t care about your writing, trust me, it shows through in what you write.

Then when does stress become bad?  

Using this same definition, when you start stressing over things you don’t care about or don’t need to care about, then you might be stressing too much.  I’m actually very familiar with this concept, for instance, stressing that a person you work with whom you hate with a fiery passion, because they’re only…oh, I don’t know…incredibly incompetent at their job,  might also hate you too?  Probably pushing the needle a little far into the danger zone on the stress-o-meter.

Knowing how to identify when you are suffering from a good amount of stress or a bad amount is key to helping you manage your stress level and eventually achieve a state of stress balance — ie., I stress over my writing, I write to de-stress…ah, balance.

Worried you might be over-stressed, or not stressing enough?  Read more about stress here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to doing homework and stressing just the right amount over my assignments.

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