It is fair to say that stress affects the lives of many young people today, admittedly, myself included. I say “admittedly” not because it is something to be embarrassed by, but rather because it often lies behind a tough exterior. Students in particular have to grapple with all kinds of pressures, both societal and personal. According to a survey conducted by the Union of Students in Ireland in 2019, 23.1% of female college students stated that they felt severely stressed. Being a student myself, this is something that I can relate to. In this article, I hope to share with you my experience with stress and how I manage it on a daily basis.
I personally believe that stress is determined by two related factors: a desire to please people and a fear of failure. Despite being able to recount moments from my childhood in which I felt rather anxious, I think that my real battle with stress began when I entered secondary school. All of a sudden, I felt an enormous pressure to excel in my studies and became obsessed with the thought of failure. This was one of my many fears, and it still is today. I began to associate productivity with self-worth and self-esteem – if I achieved an ‘A’, then I was a capable and hard-working individual. This caused a lot of stress, and at times, the fear was so overwhelming that I would cry, procrastinate my work, and become irritable and withdrawn. I essentially set myself a standard that I could not always reach; a standard that few people can ever fully live up to. Where this stemmed from I have no idea, given the fact that I was a diligent student who was in no way headed towards the path of failure. Nevertheless, it was an experience that forced me to unpack my fears and realise my own potential.
Intertwined with this was the desire to please others, namely, to confirm or deny their perception of me. This was an inner personal conflict that bred stress and made setting boundaries quite difficult. I have always struggled with saying the word “no” and tending first to my own needs. This intensified in university, following various failed attempts at finding work and the pressure that comes with exams. There were times at which I felt torn between what others expected of me, and what it was that I truly needed (a break). Even now, in my daily life, I am constantly in a tussle with stress and the feeling of inadequacy. However, rather than running away from it, I choose to confront it head-on; in fact I transform it into creativity.
But how do I actually achieve this? How do I tap into my anxious thoughts and ultimately use them to my advantage? Allow me, if I may, to share with you some tips and advice on how to do this. Firstly, the biggest revelation for me was identifying my triggers. By this, I am referring to what actually prompts me to feel stressed (a fear of failure and a desire to please others). After coming to this realisation, I started filtering out certain habits from my life that were both unnecessary and stress-inducing. The biggest of these was the constant need to give an instantaneous reply to text messages (text messages that did not necessitate an urgent response). Along with this, I began practicing saying “no” to social outings and only made plans to attend them when I felt rested and mentally-relaxed. This brought freedom and serenity to me in ways for which I will forever be grateful. I began to realise that protecting my energy was vital to reducing the amount of stress that I encountered daily. I learned how to say “I cannot physically do everything at once” to myself, which in turn, led me to being both assiduous and patient. Consequently, my desire to satisfy the demands of other people gradually diminished and I created my own sense of liberation.
In addition to this, I decided to undertake various activities as a means of creatively expressing my anxious thoughts. This not only served as a calming method; it also allowed me to remain centred and combat my fear of failure. Being a writer, I take comfort in putting pen to paper and jotting down my thoughts. I believe that this is one of the most cathartic acts performed by humanity. In doing so, my stress takes on many different forms, manifesting as poetry, affirmations, and journal entries. The practice of doodling can also be calming, and I strongly encourage you to try it.
Likewise, sending myself an encouraging text message or typing notes in my phone is another means of relieving stress. If I am travelling somewhere that makes me feel anxious, for example, an exam centre or my place of work, I will type little notes for myself to read on the bus. A simple “you’ll be okay” can be quite soothing and make me feel as though I am capable and ready to complete the task ahead. I also, quite often, create a list on my phone of everything I get to do when I return home. This reassures me that even if the experience does not go as planned, my day can still end on a positive note. This activity, as well as the others that I mentioned, enables me to maintain hope and perseverance in the face of stress. After reflecting on my experience for the purpose of this article, I truly believe that such activities can be applied to the lives of other young adults and teenagers.
And so bearing that in mind, I would like to say this to you, the reader:
Stress in itself can be a wonderful gift that enables you to discover small ways to bring joy to yourself. It is a natural part of the human condition, and indeed of growing up. Do not fear it, for it can be tamed, and do not dismiss it, for it is innate. Stress is your teacher – it stimulates growth and fosters development. Rather than running from it, allow it to motivate you to finish that assignment, to attend that job interview, or to take time for yourself. Transform your stress into creativity and watch closely as it, in turn, transforms you.