Stress. It's something that almost every high school student faces and something almost every high school student wants to overcome. Now, I say "almost" because I can't speak for everyone. But, if there is a high school student who hasn't stressed out about his or her scholarly pursuits or achievements, then we should probably be listening to what he or she has to say, instead of me or one of (most of) you – a stressed high school student.
I've often considered stress as the number one deterrence in my success. However, again, I can't attribute it to all of my failures, because, at times, I've proved to do well under pressure. That brings me to my first point.
Stress shouldn't be seen as a limitation. On the contrary, stress can benefit us in potentially threatening situations. In those situations, "the stress response is designed to help us react" (Berkeley). But, the way we use that stress to react depends on our state of mind. For example, I've gone into piano recitals thinking that I was unprepared, beating myself up about it, and then getting even more anxious that the amount of stress I'm facing will cause me to mess up and fail in a concert hall filled with 100 people. And sure enough, in each one of the recitals I've gone into with that mindset, I messed up my fingering or let my anxiety take over my hands to the point that they shook over the keys. On the other hand, throughout all six of the piano competitions I've done over the past seven years, I've gone in with the backing of my piano teacher and her imprinted message that, and I quote, "You do well under pressure." And at each one of those competitions, I got the highest score because I went into those competitions knowing that the stress was there to help me do better. Stress pushed me to excellence. If we immediately perceive stress as negative and attribute stress to low-performance or failure, then we will not be able to use it as the beneficial factor it was originally meant to be.
However, with a positive reaction, the scientific term of "eustress" can be realized. "Eustress" is a term coined during an experiment of a stress model explored by Richard Lazarus, a clinical psychiatrist, and is defined as "positive, or good, stress." By looking at your challenges as challenges you can overcome, eustress can then bring "complete absorption into an activity" (Health) and a "state of flow" (Health) driven by a "pressure to succeed" (Health), according to Csikszentmihalyi, an esteemed American-Hungarian psychologist. I've personally experienced instances where I've gotten so involved in the task at hand that I lost track of time. This is when I do my most efficient work, all because I'm channeling my focus into doing this task and into overcoming whatever challenges it poses. Then that state of flow comes naturally because of that positive mindset.
But, with the mental state of kids at the same level as mental asylum inmates in the 1950s (American Psychological Association); with anxiety, irritability, and depression levels rising for 76 percent of teens due to stress (USA Today); with the looming clouds of college admissions beginning to drizzle down added anxiety; with their fearfully strict scrutiny forcing us to mold ourselves into struggling puppets on strings abiding by the choreography of a successful high school career, it's no wonder that stress is predominantly perceived as being an obstacle to quality performance. So, how do we let this stress impact us positively? How do we approach stress to benefit our performance?
Earlier, I said that stress is something every high school student wants to overcome. But, "embracing stress is more important" (Stanford). Harvard studies show that by embracing stress and accepting the stress response, a changed state of mind will allow your body to release pent up beneficial adrenaline and therefore begin its effect in enhancing your performance (Harvard). That surge of adrenaline can then be channeled into focused energy to complete an assignment or ace a test.
Once you experience this stress response, your brain rewires itself and is then imprinted with the experience in order to learn from it and handle it in a certain way next time (Stanford). This function is called "stress inoculation" (Stanford), which makes going through the experience similar to a brain and body stress vaccine. Simply experiencing stress differently allows you to change the imprint stress leaves on your brain, making stress a help and not a hindrance. With repetition, your brain will use stress to your advantage. Take NASA astronauts, for example. Putting them "through practice stress is a key training technique" (Stanford). This applies to elite athletes, emergency responders, and more. Imagine the wonders this technique will do you all if our biggest stresses are merely school related.
Lastly, we look at the consequences. As I've repeated throughout this speech, it's been scientifically proven that the way you think about stress changes the way that your body responds to stress. If all else fails, know that it isn't just beneficial to react positively, but that it's also even morecorrosive if one thinks negatively. Such destructive ways could span from short term risks, such as procrastination and low performance, to long term risks as an adult, including chronic fatigue and anxiety. This is further reason to fight this now, while the effects are still minimal.
Today, we often emphasize how much we are stressed without focusing on how to relieve it. We need to open our minds to it. That's the only way we can allow stress to make us smarter, stronger, and happier.
So, don't stress about stress! Accept it when it comes, knowing it will boost your performance, and don't hang on to it. Whether you like it or not, stress will still be something that almost every high school student faces and something almost every high school student will think they want to overcome. But, now you've learned that facing that stress positively makes all the difference, and maybe, just maybe, you'll end up not wanting to overcome it, but rather greeting it as an old friend that you now know to appreciate.