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Don’t give in to stress

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stress. It can be an ugly thing. High blood pressure, pimples, weight gain, irritability and a host of other unappealing, even unmentionable, physical symptoms have all been linked to experiencing stress. And how is everyone feeling these days, now that the Thanksgiving holiday milestone has been breached? Stressed. Somehow, we can hold it at bay through the great feast on – to quote my brother – the “large roasted flightless bird.” However, some of you may have even noticed the stress creeping up on you as the holiday weekend came to a close … and when you got back to class on Monday? Bam! Stress city! There’s no longer anything between you and finals!

You have probably noticed, however, that sometimes stress can be a good thing. Who hasn’t been able to whip out a paper simply because it was due the next morning (or that same afternoon)? Who hasn’t found their study habits suddenly improving as the test grew nearer and nearer? Ironically, we often get a lot more done when we’re busy than when we have plenty of time on our hands.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of both kinds of stress – the over-the-top-can’t-sleep-because-of-it stress and the adrenaline-buzz-high-productivity stress – is that both can induce high levels of selfishness. In the midst of our shoulder-tightening anxiety, we believe that no one else could possibly have more work, harder profs, a more demanding schedule or longer papers than we do. We grouse at our roommates, who are certainly just sitting around doing nothing compared to the amount of work we have. Or, while zipping around in caffeine-induced super-productivity, we come to think a little too highly of our own speed writing or cramming abilities. Who needs study groups, friends to proofread papers or any help at all, for that matter? On a tight deadline, we’re the best!

Well, step back and take a deep breath, regardless of how you’re experiencing the stress during these last few busy days of the semester. Althea Gibson, the trailblazing tennis player of the 1950s who became the first African-American to ever win a Grand Slam tennis tournament (she won 11) and the first African-American voted by the Associated Press as “Female Athlete of the Year” said, “No matter what accomplishments you achieve, somebody helped you.” Whether you feel overwhelmed and alone or slightly on the cocky side, reach out to someone else in these next few weeks. We are more connected than we realize, for as St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13).

Finally, if you will accept a few words of advice from a voice of experience:

Be kind to your roommates and friends, even if you don’t feel like it.

Stand up straight (just trust me on this; it really helps).

Don’t drink too much coffee or alcohol. Neither will help as much as you think they will.

Don’t eat too much, especially when you’re just mindlessly moving your hand back and forth between chip bag and mouth. It will only make you feel worse.

Get a little exercise, even if you just take a quick walk around the quad.

Sleep never hurts either. It helps the brain absorb information and it also helps ensure against involuntarily falling asleep during the exam itself (as I did once during a Calculus final my freshman year).

Pray with these words from Archbishop Virgil O’Brien, who recently visited the Notre Dame campus: “Never is life so insecure as when we hold it in the palm of our own hands and think we can control it. Never is our own life safer than when we entrust it to the hands of a merciful God in Christ.”

This week’s FaithPoint is written by Kate Barrett, director of resources and special projects in the Office of Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.