Stress is a normal part of life. Like the subjects you’ll study, the stress you experience—about exams, presentations, papers, friends and relationships, to name just a few—is training you for greater challenges in life and your career.
What is stress?
When people talk about stress, what they really mean is the stress response. The stress response is the way your brain and body let you know that you have a challenge or problem that needs to be addressed. It’s the signal that causes us to adapt and become more resilient.
Why should I use the term Stress Response?
The word stress has taken on a negative connotation that leads to unhelpful ways of thinking about and managing our stress response. Using clear language to describe our experiences helps us learn how to use the stress response to promote, instead of reduce, our health and mental health.
What about anxiety?
We often substitute the word anxiety when we mean the stress response. But anxiety is not the same thing as the stress response.
The myth of evil stress
Until recently, most people believed that the stress response was bad for you, that stress should be avoided whenever possible. We’ve been bombarded by media and product marketing that has made us believe that we should avoid or decrease the stress response. Just think about how many products or services are advertised as essential for stress relief.
As it turns out, most daily stress that we experience is actually good for us. And avoiding it could even be harmful.
Why everyday stress is good for us
Everyday stress actually makes us stronger. Like exercise works our muscles and prepares them for greater physical exertion, managing everyday stress by using healthy coping strategies helps us become emotionally and psychologically stronger. It makes us more resilient to life’s challenges.
In other words, when you experience a stressful situation and successfully cope with it, you’re getting an emotional and psychological workout. The next time a similar stressor comes along, you’re better equipped to handle it. And it probably won’t feel as stressful the next time around.
But isn’t it easier to avoid stress? Or get someone else to make the stressful thing or situation go away? Maybe in the short term, but it will catch up with you.
If you avoid stress or expect someone else to resolve the problem for you, you don’t learn the skills you need to take on life’s daily challenges. Over time, this can lead to feeling helpless and constantly stressed out. You’ve traded developing long-term resilience for short-term relief. Does that sound like a good trade?
Have you become a stress avoider? Do you feel overwhelmed or helpless when you experience stress? Even if you’ve developed these habits and responses to stress, you can reverse them and develop health-promoting ways to manage your stress. You can turn stress from your enemy into your friend.
The myth of exam anxiety
Most people don’t have exam anxiety. Instead, they’re experiencing the normal stress response to writing an exam. Experiencing the stress response about exams is the signal that you need to develop solutions in order to succeed at that task. How are you going to prepare to do the best that you can do? What skills do you need to develop to help yourself take on this challenge?
Content adapted from Transitions, a resource guide for university students, and the first evidence-based publication of its kind, developed by Dr. Stan Kutcher.