Opinion | Don’t run from stress, embrace it

By Lynnette Tibbott, Staff Columnist

In life, nothing can truly last — not people, feelings or chapters in our life. Everything is temporary. This is the one certainty of life in its ebb and flow of constant change, so both the good and the bad in life can never last. You may think the good being temporary is innately bad, but I think it’s quite the contrary. Even prolonged joy loses its magic and becomes normal eventually. If we know nothing of the bad, there’s nothing to contrast and heighten the good in our lives. 

My philosophy is that we need the full human experience, which entails both negative and positive feelings in their entirety. Our emotions follow the same pattern of a wave. Our feelings might switch between feeling like a gentle tide or a tsunami, but they’re never wholly stasis. What is the true meaning of peace if we can’t contrast it to war? Or how can we know comfort when we don’t experience discomfort? The same goes for success — when we don’t first fail and struggle, our achievements lose their significance. 

When we think of comfortability, we don’t imagine a stressful life. We envision peace and an easy-breezy lifestyle. We connote stress with negative outcomes. Sometimes we may even feel overwhelmed or helpless against stress, because we feel like nothing is in our control. I believe this feeling of stress stems from something deeper than the norm, and it might require professional help. Yet healthy stress, or eustress, does exist. And it is this form of stress that benefits our lives. 

Eustress helps us grow as individuals. It can make us uncomfortable at times, but in that discomfort we can truly grow. Growing occurs from the bottom upwards, and strong seeds can withstand harsh conditions to spring up from the dirt. Like a plant, we must experience adversity in our journey to reach the sun.

Also similar to a plant, stress helps us weather the storm of life. Stress presents us with two choices — we can either run from those feelings or learn from them. When you run from stress, you not only develop but even reaffirm the habitual behavior of avoiding stressors, called avoidance coping. Avoidance doesn’t solve problems. Only confrontation and acceptance yields resolution. When you face stress head-on, you achieve healthy stress management and conflict resolution behaviors. 

We’ve all heard the expression “when it rains, it pours,” implying that when something goes wrong, everything tends to spiral. But sometimes what we perceive as a downpour is actually only a light shower. Sometimes sensory overload may provoke hyperbolic feelings of a downpour in our minds, where we can’t fully comprehend our external environment and we experience extreme irritability, discomfort, stress and anxiety. This is when stressors become utterly unmanageable. Like a storm, these feelings should always pass. In these times, it’s best to remind yourself that no feeling lasts forever.

The most significant trait to identify healthy stress is its impermanence. Healthy stress motivates us to achieve short-term goals. Stress also enhances alertness, memory and our efficiency in completing tasks. For example, you could feel stressed about an upcoming exam. Someone who manages stress in a healthy way would respond by creating a routine study habit and ensuring that they’re prepared to take the exam. When you prepare for a stressful moment, you eliminate your feelings of uncertainty and therefore eliminate stress. 

No matter the situation, taking action to move towards a goal eliminates uncertainty and therefore “bad” stress, or distress. All of these events are fleeting, yet they have the possibility to hold true success. It’s a good thing that you stress about them because they hold significant opportunities for you to succeed. 

Sometimes we stress about certain aspects in our lives, and we experience negative consequences as a result. For example, I’ve experienced times when I wasn’t prepared to take an exam. I had no tangible routine or goals, and that’s why it was easy to disregard my responsibility. Once I did poorly on the test, I had to reevaluate my schedule. I was stressed for the next exam, but I created measurable goals that helped me earn a good grade on the next one. Remembering the stress I experienced over failure gave me a wake up call and guided me to future success.

But success has diverse factors, and it’s never single-faceted. Forces out of our control like luck, intelligence or privilege all play into how successful we may become. However discouraging a situation may seem, it doesn’t excuse our efforts of perseverance. People make time for the things they care about, and growing as a person means showing yourself enough honesty to know when you may be self-sabotaging your progress. 

We’ve all experienced situations where we predetermine the outcome of a situation and give up before the challenge even begins. For instance, telling yourself there’s no point in studying for an exam because you’re going to fail anyway. This is not the mind of a mature, accountable individual. Once your brain grows accustomed to this behavior, it becomes a part of your habits, and habits are hard to break. 

This mentality becomes more dangerous when it applies to other aspects of life, such as finances and relationships. Telling yourself something will never happen makes it true automatically, because you never give yourself the opportunity to achieve it. Refusing to accomplish a difficult or stressful task hurts you more than the stressor would. 

At the end of the day, no one longs for stress. It’s not a comfortable feeling. But next time you have the choice, maybe opt for the challenging one. You may surprise yourself over what you can manage and accomplish. We all tend to underestimate our own abilities until we’re stuck in a situation where we have no choice but to try. Even if success isn’t guaranteed, there’s something strong and powerful in giving your all despite the odds. 

If you’re stressed — whether it’s over an exam, relationship or interview — always remember that it means something more than surface-level negative feelings. If you‘re stressed, it means you’re passionate about something, and passion is one of the key traits in successful individuals. We tend to view stress as a weakness, but it’s time to start thinking of it as your strength. 

Lynnette Tibbott primarily writes about topics in the sciences and humanities. Write to her at [email protected]