My Relationship with Stress

Stress. What does this word make you think of? Some people may think of it as nothing more than a motivator. To them, stress is something that pops up before a big test to help them speed-study and cram an extra bit of information into their brains. Others see it in a completely different light; a darker light. I’m one of those ‘others’. Stress has always been with me, but it was particularly forceful during my freshman and sophomore years, refusing to back away despite my best efforts. I used to think my of struggles as a part of me that I should be ashamed of, but graduating from high school and moving up to university has helped me think of it from a new point of view. I try to think of this revamp as a sign of my steps toward self-improvement, so hopefully, this piece will remind you that stress doesn’t have to stay your enemy forever!

One of my biggest stress-related problems was my over-cautiousness. My brief stint at a Korean international school was a rude awakening — not only did those three years force me to notice my lack of competitiveness, but it also made me realize that I gave up too easily. I ran away from the unfamiliar, beat myself up when my rare endeavors failed and began to believe that I would never get into college. Anything that seemed mildly challenging made me panic, and I eventually reached a point where I couldn’t make it through a simple quiz without breaking down in tears. School became unbearable.

Photo by Gino Crescoli

When my parents and teachers found out about my “unnecessary amount of stress”, they tried to console me, telling me that I’d do fine as long as I had more faith in myself. Obviously, this didn’t work. Their words of encouragement actually backfired, and I felt even more pressure to stay calm and satisfactorily finish my assignments. This up-and-down situation ended up making me think that I would never be able to catch up with my peers. As a result, I distanced myself from opportunities that could have helped me grow and only did the absolute bare minimum; a misguided attempt to avoid further disappointment.

So how did I improve my relationship with stress? The truth is, I’m still on the way toward that milestone. I’ve come to accept my stress as an omnipresent frenemy of sorts, as it can insistently guide me through obstacles one day and completely shut me down the next. However, the attitude I’ve decided to adopt is what truly pushed me to this transformation. Stress can be viciously painful, but a simple change of perspective can make a world of difference — as Lou Holtz once said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the way you carry it.”