Embracing Stress: Transforming stress into a strategy of success

As midterms come upon us, we definitely feel the stress of studying for exams, meeting deadlines for papers and carrying our own weight as college students. This high level of stress takes a toll on both our physical and mental states.

But quite to the contrary, your well-being is not dependent on your stress level but rather your perspective on that stress. Many researchers now find that positive stress due to everyday life is actually good for you if you look at it from an angle that differs from the conventional view on it.

Understanding your stress

Many people think that stress is an abnormal way that our body reacts to  pressure to finish a task or accomplish a goal. All the levels of anxiety that we experience lead us to think that stress is unhealthy and unnecessary.  

The trick is to realize that stress is part of your everyday life and that it can actually be good for you to be stressed because “it keeps you on your toes,” according to Elena Perez, academic intervention programs coordinator at UCR’s Academic Resource Center (ARC).

If you think that stress is bad, then you will most likely suffer poor health such as high blood pressure and anxiety, research states. But if you convince yourself to embrace your stress and channel it into motivation, this suddenly releases endorphins into your body, allowing you to push through and keep going.

To better understand the physical strain of negative stress, Helena Sidrak, a third-year psychology major at UCR, explains that people with the perception that stress is unhealthy diminish the protection cushion around their DNA chromosomes (also known as the telomere) and henceforth shorten their longevity of life. Meanwhile, research is now finding that people who channel that stress into a positive motivator not only preserve the telomeres protecting their DNA but also reverse the effects of aging.

A recent study conducted by psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal at Stanford shows that people with high levels of positive stress have a more meaningful life.

Thinking About your Stress

Perez adds that stress keeps life interesting and gives life a sense of purpose. She recommends asking: “Why am I stressing?”

“It causes us to focus on those things that are going to motivate us,” first-year neuroscience major Aayma Irfan. Stress is not necessarily detrimental to our health. When interviewing, Irfan gladly admitted that her stress makes her want to achieve more and study more. “It gives me something to do,” Irfan ecstatically stated.

“Stress makes us learn about ourselves, seek out opportunities and thrive to be successful,” Perez reflects. Positive stress gives us something to look forward to and most of all, that sense of relief when a job gets accomplished, like, for example, when meeting the deadline of that paper ahead of time. Perez emphasizes that one of the best ways you can utilize stress to your favor is to set goals and build up a mental checklist, crossing things off as they get accomplished. That builds up a sense of relief, purpose, achievement and empowerment.

Stress makes us learn about ourselves, seek out opportunities and thrive to be successful.

Think about it. You stress because you want to do well. You care about your life and your decisions and that is normal. In fact, you should be stressing at a moderate scale; it is a necessity of life. Think of simple everyday tasks that cause you to stress while not realizing it. Waking up at a certain time to get to work is a form of stress, a positive way that gets you out of bed or out of the house at a certain time. Getting that in-class assignment done during class is also a form of stress that keeps you off your phone and undistracted from the task at hand. If you channel your negative thoughts like “I’m not going to do well on the test” or “I will study so that I will have more opportunity to do well,” you will reduce anxiety due to stress and set a goal for yourself to accomplish.

Managing Stress

When faced with upcoming deadlines and exams, Irfan manages her stress by studying in small increments or writing an outline for papers to be polished later in the day. “I can’t be stressed if I’m studying because I am actually getting something done,” Irfan asserted.

A great strategy you can use to relieve some excessive stress is to listen to music while walking to class, according to Irfan. Irfan likes to embrace her culture by listening to upbeat Indian music to give her energy as well as pleasure, providing her with a small brain break from the normal fast-paced day.

Another great strategy is to have flashcards handy when standing in a long line or waiting for your food to be ready to get picked up. It is a great use of time and it is lightweight. Some websites like Quizlet or StudyBlue make it possible to have already-made flashcards available at your fingertips.

Even more great news: To better manage your stress and transform it into positive stress, UCR offers many resources throughout the week made for you by students like you. The ARC is a great one-stop shop with various workshops for areas such as stress management, time management and motivation and goal setting. All these workshops are led by trained peer mentors who understand what it means to be a college student.  

Another great resource is the UCR counseling center near parking lot 15. If you ever need to talk one-on-one about unique situations, the center has trained professionals who are always there to help you. They also have extensive knowledge about the physical and mental impacts of stress on your body to better help you understand the impacts of stress from a medical perspective.

Please visit arc.ucr.edu for more information on academic workshops or counseling.ucr.edu for appointment directions.

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