Let’s Talk About Stress in Our Generation

For many students, a four-year graduation plan is accompanied by enormous amounts of stress. Unfortunately, we are fast approaching the semester’s pinnacle of academic stress: dead week. What makes the homestretch so stressful, more so than the project deadlines and final papers, is the final grade. We are a society that no longer demands academic achievement but requires it. A college degree is a necessity, with success seemingly out of reach for those without “college graduate” status.

The strive for higher education, instilling the concept of college as a necessity, is even federally supported. This is seen with the K-12, government mandated Common Core State Standards Initiative slogan, “Preparing America’s Students for College & Career.”  What once began at a high school level, college and career preparation is now commencing at a kindergarten level. The emphasis on academic achievement has never been higher in this country and students are feeling the weight of this sink or swim situation.

The educational gains attained by new societal standards have put the millennial generation on track to be the most educated generation in our country’s history. However, these standards may also prove to be counterproductive. The same expectations that have lead millennials to achieve new academic heights can produce stressful environments that undermine academic performance. Numerous studies show an association between poor performance and high-stakes testing situations.

As students, we experience stress in so many forms with such frequency that it has become a standard with little thought of its consequences. Stress, both acute and chronic, can be significantly damaging to our health, affecting our emotional control and digestive, cardiac and muscular systems. One of the worst aspects of academic stress is that it is as long-standing as our academic environment. As I look back at my life, I realize that I have spent two decades sitting at desks, taking tests and listening to lectures. The social contexts, making friends, joining groups, dating, GPA expectations, costs of college — all the stresses that encompass student life have persisted for over three quarters of my lifetime but all I have really noticed is acute stress; the test as it happens then and there; the rejection from a love interest at that moment. Almost all of these things are recurring but their persistence goes unnoticed. Chronic stress tends to exist beyond our awareness as we get used to it.

Combatting the stress that so negatively impacts student life should be made a priority. The issue must be handled by both the individual and institution. MSU offers several means of escape from collegiate pressure; it is up to the student to seek them. Tutoring is available year-round, as is the gym, both of which are excellent stress-management options and are heavily utilized. What is generally undervalued and mismanaged, however, is the student’s social life.

As social creatures, it is imperative that we live some kind of life outside of the classroom, engaging with friends and family. The difficulty in this is balance. While it is possible to maintain a social life during college, many students find themselves on either end of the spectrum: living the party life or living the scholastic life. The fact of the matter is that a student’s social life is as vital as the degree they are seeking.
The same goes for relaxation. Find a way to relax. Make time for it. Make a conscious effort to remove yourself from your stressful environment, whether that be through hitting the slopes with friends, lifting weights or streaming movies. As long as it is not done so regretfully, relaxing could be the most beneficial thing you do as a student. Finals are stressful enough on their own; there is all the reason in the world to refrain from adding to it. So, for the sake of your health and GPA, take a load off.