The end of the winter semester is in sight, and the signs are all around.
Maybe you’ve noticed that you have to park a little farther from the main buildings as more students do their studying on campus and tend to stay a bit longer.
Or, perhaps you’ve noticed it takes a little more time to find an open computer in the labs, and all of a sudden there seem to be fewer students there for the expressed purpose of browsing Facebook or watching a soccer match.
When aloof classmates that have shunned each other all semester find themselves in debating the interpretation of a poem for a class paper or arguing over an unknown value in a physics problem, one has to wonder if there isn’t an upside to pre-exam week stress.
Much of the advice students receive at this time in the semester has to do with beating stress, but not many will tell you that a certain amount of pressure can be a good thing.
For many of us, a reasonable amount of stress has the benefit of keeping us sharp, more alert when it comes to reviewing dense material or performing well on tests.
Some students work better under stress than they do without that pressure. They find the quality of their work is noticeably improved.
Stress can be an awesome motivator. It can be the force that compels one to push past the feelings that some obstacle is insurmountable.
While spurring us on, stress can also show us what we are capable of. At some point or other, we’ve all had the feeling that we simply could not complete a project on time or score a passing grade in a tough class. Stress can compel us beyond what we believe to be our limits.
When the project is finished, the presentation delivered or the exam is passed, students have a better, more realistic sense of their own abilities. Perhaps they did not recognize how much they already knew about their studies, how much they could contribute to a study group or how much they could get done in a limited amount of time.
Too soon afterward, students forget that stress was an important part of this self-discovery process.
It’s good for students to know what they can accomplish on their own, but its also good for them to be reminded that people are there to help. When students ask for support, they’re not the only ones that benefit.
When students are stressed, they are more likely to turn to instructors, tutors, classmates and counselors for assistance. It feels good to be able to help someone in need, and when stressed-out students ask for support, they are giving someone else the opportunity to do a good deed and have those positive feelings.
It’s also quite clear that students tend to be more aware of their stress as the end of the semester approaches. This means they also take more care to manage that stress and can end up taking better care of themselves than they have the whole semester.
When students are aware of their stress, they don’t skip as many breaks or meals. They remind themselves to get a good night’s sleep. Many realize the importance of exercise in dealing with stress and make time to run, work out or play sports, things they should could been doing all semester long.
Sometimes, stress even causes us to treat ourselves better than we normally would. To make up for the “hardship” of all the extra studying and homework, some students buy themselves a new gadget, spring for a new music album or treat themselves to dinner at a favorite restaurant. They reward themselves in small ways for working hard, and that’s good for their self-esteem.
Perhaps the most overlooked benefit of stress is that it brings families and friends closer together. Students place a few more calls home or spend a little more quality time in good company when they need a break from the books.
Stress is often an intensely personal feeling that we don’t discuss with many people. When we can talk about it with those that care most for us, we’re really letting closer to us, sharing with them part of our secret, inner lives.
While life is sure to be full of pressure, the attitudes we have and choices we make can largely determine how we experience stress.
If we keep some of these benefits in mind, we’ll be better prepared for whatever comes our way.