Stress Should Not Be An Indicator of Status

We’ve all heard about the effects of excessive stress. We’ve listened to the same repetitive facts about how stress can contribute to a countless number of biological and psychological issues ranging from exhaustion to depression to heart complications. The majority seems to agree that too much stress yields negative effects, yet we simultaneously encourage and reward stress amongst our friends and peers. 

Undergraduate culture seems to fixate on a conversation debating which majors or fields of study are easy or difficult. The argument never ends. Engineering, nursing, business, arts and science students all wage a constant war against one another to determine which group has to live the most challenging lifestyle as a result of their choice in field of study. Rather than compare intelligence or success, which would seem logical in the realm of higher education, everyone instead competes for the highest perceived misery. Students of different majors and colleges spend a great deal of time listing off all of their responsibilities and assignments, complaining about why their schedules win the prize for most difficult and draining. 

I’m a firm believer that each major is equally challenging in its own unique way. Especially after incorporating extracurricular obligations, psychological needs, social engagements, etc., no one in college has a completely open schedule free of time constraints. More importantly, winning the nonexistent prize for highest stress level, most difficult major, or least amount of free time should not be an aspiration for college students and points to a disturbing facet of higher education culture. 

By fixating on comparisons of our own workloads and stress to others’, we further a culture that encourages an unhealthy stress level and subsequent unhealthy lifestyle. College students feel the need to proudly report the few hours they slept due to studying, the number of obligations they have each day and the overwhelmed, anxious feelings they experience throughout the week as a result of attempting to balance academic obligations with the rest of their lives. Everyone should have an outlet, and it’s important to release emotions through conversation and bonding with friends. However, such conversations fail to serve anyone involved when they stem from an attempt to compete for the greatest right to stress out. 

We not only view stress as the norm, but we also subconsciously encourage it. The next time a friend of yours begins talking about how his or her major is the most difficult, how he or she has no time to do anything and how little he or she has been sleeping, do not just reply with your own list of stressors and obligations in an attempt to prove yourself. Listen to the grievances, and instead of just commiserating, suggest a few stress reduction alternatives. Offer to go to the gym with your friend or invite him or her to dinner to save time on cooking. Choose to react with a positive suggestion rather than a retort explaining why your stress is even more significant than your friend’s. Doing so will help us gravitate towards a higher education culture that works to alleviate rather than romanticize stress.