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Now that school is back in session, the hectic routine is starting to set in. You’ve already passed that short period of time at the beginning of the semester when deadlines seem far away. You may even have a quiz or a test on the horizon that you are starting to worry about. Once the deadlines, quizzes, papers, projects, etc. start to come up, there is another unwelcome companion that creeps in: stress!
Stress seems to be a major part of the college experience. But does this really have to be the case? Don’t you always get the assignment, paper or project done in the nick of time anyway?
The problem with stress is that is ruins the now. You may be sitting in your bedroom or living room trying to read a book or review your notes, but you cannot focus because you are already so stressed out. Or you may be sitting in your English class, and just hearing about the test that is coming up next week creates enough stress that you tune out for the rest of the class. You have more and more material to review because now you have to make up for the information you are missing in the present! The question we must try to ask ourselves is do I really have a problem right now?
The answer is often “No.” When you are sitting on your bed or outside reading, there is no actual reason to have the stress hormone, cortisol, running through your body. You are safe, doing something enjoyable, and there is calmness around you. If you allow yourself to focus on the future event that is causing you stress, you will release the hormone stress response that goes along with that future situation. This is how your mind works. If you think about a future situation, your body responds as if it were in that situation right now. So you may experience the highest levels of stress, making your entire body and mind feel tense, when in reality, you are a perfectly calm situation.
The other question to ask yourself is whether you can really do anything about the future event right now? If you have to get through a shift of work or visit family before you can start on your school project, the answer may be “No.” This does not mean you should procrastinate. Instead, it means that you should allow yourself to be fully present if at this moment you cannot give your attention to your school assignment. Be present with your family, your friends, or at your job. Enjoy what you are doing and don’t think about the past or future. Once you are able to focus on your school work, your mind will be refreshed and ready for thinking!
These are two simple questions you can ask yourself to help reduce stress. Do I have a problem in this moment, and is there anything I can do about the test/project in this moment?
Our society highly values a person who can multi-task and has high resistance to stress. This does not mean these are qualities we should strive for all of the time. Instead of trying to keep 10 different balls in the air at one time, try focusing on one at time. Give each assignment or class your full attention and time. Try to only focus on the project that you have in front of you right now. Not only will you be more effective, but the quality of your work will improve! You will be more productive and maintain a sense of calmness while you work down your list of things to do. It is definitely not a bad thing to lower your tolerance for stress. The more stress you think you can handle, the more stress you will allow in your life. If you are proud to say that you have a very high tolerance for stress, you are probably always exhausted! You are carrying around so much unnecessary mental weight and your body is always running on stress adrenaline. Seek to actively reduce the amount of stress in your life, and the quality of your personal and academic life will soar.
If you are interested in learning more about managing stress, living fully in the present, and spirituality, I highly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now.