Stress-Coping Mechanisms

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As a high school freshmen, I once told myself that nothing can get worse than the busy life of a ninth grader. Then came sophomore year, and I was certainly I had descended to the seventh inferno. Except then junior year swept in and dropped me to an even more hallow abyss. By my senior year, I had convinced myself that though persistent sleep deprivation and endless tests, homework, and projects were the unpleasant realities I had to face, there was the paradise of college—a stress-free freedom where I no longer had to worry about a few numbers that labeled me.

It didn’t take me too long to recognize that that was a fantasy as well. The last week of October marks the onset of midterms at Princeton, the very reason why I’m still hunched over frantically-annotated notes at 3:03AM. Unlike in high school where grades are typically calculated through a complex formula involving more than a dozen assignments, three tests at maximum determine a class grade in college. Needless to say, the cumulative tests are probably the biggest source of stress for college students.

I don’t pretend to be the Dr. Know-it-all for stress coping mechanisms. In fact, anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to see me before an exam—events typically inconsequential in the long-run but seemingly life-transforming at the moment—will probably recall having witnessed a severe case of omniphobia. Eyes watered by frustration at byzantine calculus problems, unquenchable sighs with each unsolvable redox equation, and continual bursts of ‘I can’t do this!’ precisely describes my night-before-test frenzy.

But this weekend, rather than locking myself up in my dorm as usual, I decided to spend some time with friends making ceramics, gardening, and called friends back at home to catch up on how they’re doing. Interestingly, I felt much more rejuvenated, and my productivity was higher than usual. This reminds me of a psychology study I once read—as our body endures stress, we release oxytocin, which, contrary to myths, increases our desire to build human connections. Indeed, stress is a catalyst for bonding, and only through fostering those bonds can equilibrium be achieved.

Yet, the optimal strategy for reducing stress is better time management. Reflecting back, if I had better budgeted my time during the last two weeks, this energy-draining push at the last hour would not be necessary. Time management is perhaps the biggest challenge for college freshman, even for the most disciplined. College demands a much more in-depth and critical approach to studying; simply completing the assigned problems for points is not conducive to mastering the material.

To all the midterm crusaders this week and next, I wish you all the best!

Jessica Li, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’18