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In-Depth: Stressed for Success

Students, staff discuss benefits of stress
Grace+Dai%2C+sophomore%2C+works+on+homework+in+the+library.+After+overexerting+herself+to+prepare+for+tennis+tryouts%2C+Dai+said+she+now+tries+to+use+stress+as+a+motivator+to+get+things+done.
Samantha Perz
Grace Dai, sophomore, works on homework in the library. After overexerting herself to prepare for tennis tryouts, Dai said she now tries to use stress as a motivator to get things done.

 

Every day last summer, Grace Dai, sophomore, spent around three hours in the searing heat preparing for her upcoming tennis tryouts. She played in tournaments, took classes and practiced with her brother and friends in hopes of making varsity tennis in the fall.

While this schedule was intended to help Dai build her skills, the exertion led her to suffer from leg and arm injuries, including a ripped muscle.

“The more I played, the worse I thought I was getting,” Dai said. “As tryouts approached, I got more stressed, and it was about that time I had a breakdown.”

You want to use the stress to motivate you to prepare, but you don’t want to tip over into too much stress where you’re overwhelmed.

— Dr. Tony Buchanan

Now, Dai looks back and understands how excessive her stress was but appreciates how a manageable amount of stress pushes her to succeed.

“I’m stressed because I want to do good, and so that stress furthers my reach and my potential,” Dai said. “It kind of acts like a motivator; it drives you to do what you want, but also it only works in microdoses.”

Like Dai, students at MHS and across America undergo the ups and downs of stress. Although stress is often a negative experience for many students, experts say properly managed stress can be beneficial.

Understanding Stress

Dr. Tony Buchanan, professor of psychology and co-director of the neuroscience program at Saint Louis University, often emphasizes that the impact of stress depends on how much a person has in their life.

“You want to use the stress to motivate you to prepare, but you don’t want to tip over into too much stress where you’re overwhelmed,” Dr. Buchanan said.

Stress becomes unhealthy when it takes a toll on a person’s mental and physical health, Dr. Buchanan said; however, small doses of stress are beneficial for optimal performance. The goal is to find the Goldilocks zone, where a person experiences just the right amount of stress.

The amount of stress is not the only factor that shapes a person’s experience under stress.

“How you think about stress determines how it affects you,” Dr. Buchanan said.

Juniors Shruti Sugumar, Daksha Daggumati and Samvida Batchu craft cards on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The cards were made during a National Alliance for Mental Health club meeting to be sent to the Letters Against Depression organization. (Media by Anvi Talyan)

To manage stress, Dr. Roberta Donahue, professor of health science at Truman State University, advocates for self-awareness.

“Everybody’s body will send signals to tell people that they need to manage their stress better at various times,” Dr. Donahue said.

Signals of chronic stress can include insomnia and headaches, but they differ among each person. Creating a plan to deal with stress, rather than ignoring these signals, can make it less overwhelming. 4-7-8 breathing, physical activity, adequate sleep and even laughter are strategies that can help in coping with stress.

“It’s hard because when we’re really busy the things we tend to cut are the things that would help our stress level,” Dr. Donahue said.

Although stress can be reduced, it cannot be eliminated. Acknowledging stressful moments in life creates an appreciation for when that stress is resolved, Dr. Donahue said.

“You have to have these contrasts in life where you’re aware that you’re stressed and you put your best effort into it and then it’s over,” Dr. Donahue said. “You feel that relief and you’re aware that you’re more relaxed now. You feel accomplished because you did something.”

Utilizing Stress

Jayla Freeman, senior, understands that stress has benefits and drawbacks.

Senior Maanas Sanjay works on a card during the National Alliance for Mental Health club meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 31. Sanjay recognized the upside of stress. “There is a good amount of stress to be under that prepares you for the real world and also strengthens your mind and makes you less vulnerable to mental health issues,” Sanjay said. (Media by Anvi Talyan)

“It can be a good motivator, but then I feel like sometimes if I’m too stressed out about something and feel like I have too much to do, then I just have no motivation to do anything at all,” Freeman said.

Balancing multiple extracurriculars, such as Student Council, the Superposition club and National Honors Society, while finishing college applications means that Freeman often has to focus on managing her stress effectively.

“This year, I’ve gotten a lot better at getting things done the day they’re assigned rather than pushing them off until the day they’re due,” Freeman said. “I’m still stressed out, but I feel like I can manage it better and know how to see what might be stressful in the future and prevent that now.”

Joshua Wyckhouse, junior, similarly has to balance his extracurricular activities, from football and National Honor Society to Boy Scouts, outside of school.

Wyckhouse said a lot of people don’t know how to handle their stress and learning how to manage it mostly takes time and practice.

I think a lot of character development can come out of stressful situations. We can learn from our experience how we might tackle a situation in the future and tackle it differently.

— Erin Sullenger

“You’re not going to immediately know how to handle stress,” Wyckhouse said.

Wyckhouse often feels stressed before football games and tests that he hasn’t prepared for, but he said stress is often a motivator for him if he plans ahead properly.

“It can allow you to do things faster, and in certain circumstances, make you work harder,” Wyckhouse said.

Management Strategies

Erin Sullenger, social studies teacher, agreed that stress being positive or negative depends on how someone copes with it.

“What we have to consider is how we address it and whether we allow it to shut us down or whether it actually becomes a motivator to get things done,” Sullenger said.

Members of the National Alliance for Mental Health club decorated cards on Wednesday, Jan. 31. These cards were sent to the Letters Against Depression organization. (Media by Anvi Talyan)

Sullenger said that everyone should have coping mechanisms for stress rather than attempting to avoid the cause of it entirely. She suggests breaking things down into small steps to handle them better or rewarding yourself when you reach a certain milestone or goal as a few.

“I think a lot of character development can come out of stressful situations,” Sullenger said. “We can learn from our experience how we might tackle a situation in the future and tackle it differently.”

This story was originally published on Marquette Messenger on February 14, 2024.

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