Try It Tuesday: Deescalation

You’re sitting with a friend over dinner, laughing and talking. You mention how much work you have to do and suddenly, you and your friend are engaging in a one-upping contest about who has more work and more stress.

I think a lot of college students can relate to this situation, which I like to call the Stress Olympics. Someone says they have a lot of work and stress, to which another person responds with how much they have to do, and it all escalates into a comparison of workloads that’s incredibly unproductive and frustrating. No one gains anything from these situations, and if you do have friends who might have more work than you, it can leave you feeling badly about how stressed you are over a smaller workload.

Personally, I hate these contests. What, exactly, does a person win if they “win” the “game?” A sense of pride in how overworked they are or some sort of pleasure in knowing that they’re doing so much more than everyone else? That hardly seems healthy or fun, to be honest. A bit of an empty victory, since it really means that the person is overwhelmed by work and crushing burdens. I’d say it’s less of a prize and more of a curse.

Knowing how frustrating these Stress Olympics make me, I made the conscious decision a few weeks ago to not engage in them, no matter how strong my first instinct is to jump in is. Instead, I acknowledge the other person’s stress and workload but deny the urge to counter with my own burdens.

At first, it was really difficult; my friends often talk about their stress levels and workloads, and Stress Olympics are very common with us. After all, we’re all busy college students trying to manage work, health, social lives, and extracurricular activities. Once a few days had passed, though, it got easier and easier to resist the urge, and I realized how nice it was to not be engaging in these contests. By acknowledging how stressed other people are about their work, I make them feel heard, and by refusing to compete with my own problems, I deescalate the situation and prevent myself from engaging in another Stress Olympics that will only make me feel worse. Honestly? It’s a relief.