As we begin the new semester, there is a lot to be sorted out: Work schedules, financial aid, last-minute classes to add and homework assigned. The start of the semester is stressful and often leaves me wondering if all the stress is actually worth it.
Society tells us we should go college, followed by graduate or professional school, culminating in a job in which we will strive to climb the ranks to reach our ultimate goal: success.
Frankly, just thinking about it makes me feel like I’m climbing a huge staircase that may never end.
No one would refute that we are a high-stress society. We are constantly stressed about one thing or another. About being on time, about work and, of course, about school.
This is not a healthy place for us to be at a societal level.
The American Medical Association estimated that stress plays a role in over 75 percent of illnesses today. By depressing immune functions, stress is a significant contributing factor to everything from stomach ulcers to heart disease.
But stress can also be a very important biological tool. By acting to trigger the fight-or-flight response, it provides us with an important tool for self-preservation.
The problem is that when we overuse this built-in security system, it can wear our bodies down. One exceedingly common example of a weakened immune system as a result of exhaustion is the common cold that surfaces around this time of year.
The solution to staying healthy in our stress-motivated society goes deeper than just exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep. It is truly a matter of perspective.
Does being stressed while stuck in a traffic jam make traffic move any faster?
In 2007, The Washington Post conducted an experiment in which world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell played in a Washington D.C. metro station. The experiment was set up to see how many people would stop in the middle of their commute to hear the music. The results were very telling: only seven individuals stopped to listen for at least a minute, compared to the 1,070 others who did not. That our collective societal stress level has reached this summit is really quite depressing.
Sadly, accepting high levels of stress has become the societal norm. Our education system, for example, has been set up as a series of mini-accomplishments that stack up until we reach the acceptable “success” height in our respective fields.
The problem is, we stress our whole lives about the smaller steps it took to reach our goals that once we achieve them, we’re too physically, emotionally and psychologically taxed to enjoy it.
Too often, we do not have time to appreciate the little things, like taking a walk in the fresh air or grabbing coffee with a friend. While we cannot change the fact that stress is a part of lives, we can change our behavior.
For the sake of your physical and psychological health, take back your life by making time for yourself. Breathe. Take time to see a movie with a family member, make time to go ice skating with your friends.
Going to school and accomplishing our goals is important and fulfilling, but it is meaningless if devoid of cherished memories. It is these moments that provide the context and ultimately defines our success.
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