Although unsettling, stress indicates accomplishments

Ah, stress. It’s a college student’s closest companion, right up there with tiredness and alcohol. Even when you feel good, like you have everything done and can just relax and chill out, it’s there—hovering on the fringes. It creeps up on you at 2:00 a.m., just as you’re falling asleep after a long night of work.

Stress is like Edward from the movie Twilight: a creepy stalker who likes to watch you when you are sleeping and sneak up on you at the worst possible moments. Stress makes you want to become an adrenaline junkie just like the vampire romantic too. Wait, maybe not that last one. But definitely the former.

Starting college, it can be difficult to adjust to the level of work required for each class, unless you went to a really hard high school that actually prepared you for higher education. Mine didn’t.

So when I came to college, it felt like I was drowning under a pile of homework and reading taller than Mount Everest. I think a lot of freshmen feel that way, and that’s okay. Stress is normal. It is an inevitable part of college life. What’s imperative, and this is one of the most important things I’ve learned so far at Vassar, is not to let stress rule your life. Life and class can be exhausting, but remember that you’re not alone.

Of course, at least half of my conversations revolve around how much work I have due the next day, on Monday, etc. I think that’s pretty normal too. It’s nice to talk about your problems with people who understand and who are facing the same problems. On the other hand, don’t let it go too far.

It’s not a competition to see who has the most work, even though it feels like it sometimes. We all have different burdens, and they’re all crushing. There’s no need to go debating how crushed you are; it doesn’t matter anyway. Isn’t the time you spend complaining better spent actually doing the work? Radical idea, I know.

To keep from making this sound too much like a lecture, let’s consider the other side of productivity: procrastination. Procrastination is a beautiful thing. It really is.

Procrastinate is a Latin word literally meaning to put off until tomorrow. See? Even the ancient Romans knew that some things are better accomplished later, or better yet, never. Well, maybe not never. Deadlines are powerful motivation, after all. Deadlines are especially important in the real world, which is where we are all inevitably headed, however much we dig in our heels, cross our arms and shake our heads vehemently.

We are all going to have to get jobs someday, and deadlines will surely be a part of that. Then again, fantasy/science fiction author Neil Gaiman gave some excellent advice on that subject. He said, “People get work, however they get work. They keep work…because their work is good, and because they’re easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine” (Vimeo, “Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012”, 11.10.13).

So, you see? Just be a nice person and display expertise in what you do, and who cares about that dreaded deadline? That works in the other two ways as well, of course, but it’s nice to know that even successful authors like Gaiman aren’t perfect.

So maybe it’s not all about your course load and your volunteer tutoring and your campus job and your varsity sport. It’s almost assured that someone else is facing the same amount of work, while still managing to get their stuff done. (Though that person is just awful, aren’t they? Or maybe their work is just really good.)

Either way, stress is a natural part of everyone’s life. It is a ghost that haunts us through all the hours of the day. The important thing is to transform that ghost into a Casper—like a good friend who you greet happily whenever you meet. It’s a marker of how much you are really accomplishing.

Stress is just that—a sign of all that you are doing, and successfully too. So treat it nicely and feed it a little caffeine now and then. As we look towards finals week, remember: you can do this, and you are not alone.

 

—Lily Elbaum ’16 is a prospective independent major.

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