Have you ever been tossing in bed thinking of all the things you have to do the next day, or felt that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach as you walk into a classroom to take a difficult test? Well, all of these wonderful life experiences can be attributed to something we know so well, that we face every day: stress.
While some may say that the little adrenaline boost before you walk into a test or the anxiety you feel that drives you to work for hours on your essay may be a good thing, in a school like Stuyvesant there is always another test, another project, another presentation just around the corner. As a result, the idea of a little bit of stress has sunk into oblivion with those memories of being seven or eight years old. These continuous little bursts of anxiety snowball into a chronic condition that we cannot escape from. In this sense, we are left in a continually neurotic state, thinking that we are somehow magically going to succeed in life by working like mad and doing perfectly all the time.
Many people do not give much thought to stress because it is so familiar to us by now. But if you look at the health effects, you might pay closer attention to what you are putting yourself through. The American Institute of Stress’s (AIS) Web site has a list of 50 effects of chronic stress, a few of which are insomnia, headaches, depression, hair loss, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stomach ulcers, impotence, eczema and impairment of the immune system. Though you may not notice all of these in yourself right now, I’m sure you can see that the consequences of constant stress are not limited to just a little bit of anxiety. In fact, stress seems to worsen any health problem that does come about. For those of you still doubtful, AIS estimates that 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians can be attributed to stress.
Yes, yes, you may say that by telling you all of this, I am only making you more stressed, but I’m just trying to get you to slow down and take a breather before you jump into the rat race again. After all, most of you reading this probably have a ton of work to finish, and if you do not do it you are afraid you won’t get into a good college, won’t get a top job, won’t have money to support your family, and somehow during all this time you feel like the sky is falling and the world is going to end in a few seconds. But in the end, is your work-filled lifestyle really worth all that stress? Like a chronic infection, or rather an addiction, we cannot seem to pull ourselves away from the enticement of more work to worry about.
Even while sitting at home on a summer vacation, people worry about the fact that they are not doing anything and find that a little bit of stress may motivate them to be more productive. But having some free time that allows the creative flow of ideas is essential. After all, Archimedes’s famous “Eureka” only occurred when he took a break from his work to climb into the bathtub, thereby understanding the displacement of water. Even sleep, which many students skimp on, is a way of removing oneself from the hectic battles of everyday life. The Beatles hit song “Yesterday” came to Paul McCartney while he was sleeping in a small attic room in London.
Before you sign up for six Advanced Placement classes, or pull an all-nighter finishing a project, think about what you are doing for yourself. Or you can just think of how terrible you will look in thirty years when you will have to deal with the health effects I described above. Either way, I recommend leaving some time just to read a book, or listen to music, and especially to pull away from it all and get a good night’s sleep.