Opinion: Stress is not linked to your competence – be kind to your mind


Photo courtesy of the public domain

Despite only being a few weeks into the fall semester, I am already feeling the pressure of stress. It is important to be forgiving to yourself when stress weighs you down.

Sydney Lawson, Lifestyle Editor

It’s not a big assignment that knocks me down. It’s a simple one. It’s one I’ve done a million times before. It’s one that will only take me a couple of hours to complete. But, it’s one I haven’t accounted for. It’s the one that makes the heap of work go mentally from manageable to unbearable. 

I’m staring at my planner, and if I could think rationally I’d know that this new assignment is one I could slip in with ease, but I can’t. All I know is that this is one more thing on top of the mountain of things I’m already buried beneath. I can’t breathe with the weight of it, and I feel a panic attack coming on, which only makes me feel more miserable. 

I can’t tell you what’s different about this semester. 

Maybe it’s because I’m a junior, or because I didn’t feel very relaxed over the summer. Maybe it’s because, so far, it is the first full semester without masks and a more active campus as we move away from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe it’s because professors seem to be extra zealous this semester.

Funnily, many of my peers feel the same way I do about Fall 2022. Rather than the slow but steady incline of difficulty and workload of previous semesters, this semester feels as though we’ve been immediately steamrolled by mountains of work and expectations. 

But none of us know why.

If you’re like me, sometimes even taking measures to de-stress can cause further stress. I wonder if I deserve to take a break, or if I deserve to feel stressed at all. Am I a bad student for being so overwhelmed? If I’d done something differently, would I be struggling less right now? 

Here’s the thing I’ve had to come to terms with: your stress is not inherently your fault. Being overwhelmed doesn’t immediately mean you’ve done something wrong. Sure, some of us can say we made some decisions that placed us in more stressful situations, like pushing off our work, staying up too late or taking on too many responsibilities. 

But stress is a natural, albeit exhausting, feeling. We are only human, and we all have different limits and capacities for stress. Being stressed doesn’t mean we aren’t smart enough, strong enough or hardworking enough to finish tasks and meet expectations with ease. It is our body’s and brain’s way of telling us that they are under too much pressure and need a break. 

If you’re struggling with increased stress this semester, know you’re not alone. All of us students, even the best of the best, fall behind or become overwhelmed eventually. Everyone has wanted to scream and cry and light their lab packets on fire. It is not a reflection of how “good” of a student you are. 

There’s no sure way of reducing stress, as everyone has different capacities for stress and means of relieving it. Means of relief for one person may just cause further stress for another. Similarly, what can be de-stressing in one situation can create more stress in the future. What’s important is balance: how much stress and how much relaxation do you need to feel happy and healthy?  

Your mental health matters more than your assigned reading. Know it’s okay to take breaks, to treat yourself to that milkshake you’re craving or buy that game you’ve been wanting. Talk to your friends, advisors or counselors. Sometimes, just talking about your stress and finding that you’re not alone can take pressure off of your shoulders. 

Above all, be kind to yourself.