Stress and How I Handle It

When I’m thinking rationally, I describe stress as a state of emotional, mental or physical strain that arises when you feel overworked, emotionally or physically pressured, or when a lot is demanded of you. However, when I’m under stress, I cannot find the words to describe it. It’s almost as though I have a gigantic cloud looming over me, ready to pour rain down on me at any time. As much as I’d like to say otherwise, almost all of my stress comes from problems I created myself. You see, I’m a master procrastinator, and I can never seem to do things in an orderly, planned out fashion. I always seem to work on everything at the very last minute, all at once, and with a deadline lurking barely over the horizon. This leads to where my stress stems from: Deadlines. I constantly remind myself that I have to finish something, and I spend more time complaining about doing the work than actually working on the task at hand.

I find myself starting and finishing a project or an essay the day it’s due, and somehow, I get the best grades when I’ve worked on a project under stress. This leads to an endless cycle of getting assigned a project, getting two weeks to complete it, doing the whole things the day before it’s due, getting an eight, and repeating it. The bottom line: The only reason I procrastinate, is because I get away with it every time. So why exactly does this happen? And how does this affect the mind and body?

In basic terms, stress is a feeling that has been with humans since the very beginning. Stress used to be a coping mechanism for our ancestors, who used it as a method of surviving. When they were starving, or fleeing from a predator they used stress as a way to keep going for a short amount of time. Now, however, we are constantly under moderate amounts of stress. According to Dr. Henry Evans, “you body can’t differentiate between running from a saber-tooth tiger and a bad job review”. This shows that we weren’t built to handle stressful situation for hours, days and even weeks on end. We were designed to use a short burst of stress to overcome the hardships of life. This, in turn, leads to many negative side effects both emotionally, mentally and physically, including headaches, chronic muscle pain, heart disease, fatigue, depression and angry outbursts.

Stress can be coped with by not taking on too many obligations at once, finding time for yourself to relax, finding a hobby and doing some form of physical exercise every day. Hobbies can help with finding a way to either distract from stress, or finding an outlet to release your stress, such as art. Physical exercise releases chemicals in your body that make your more relaxed and happy, therefore lowering stress levels.

The reason people procrastinate is hard to explain. Just like stress, procrastination has been around since we first have records of humans. Even the ancient Greeks wrote about putting their work off ‘just one more day’. According to many recent studies, people who procrastinate have much higher stress levels and lower well-being. Many psychologists agree that while everyone procrastinates, not everyone is a procrastinator. In the words of DePaul University professor, John Ferrari, “It really has nothing to do with time-management…As I tell people, to tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.” Often times, procrastination is a way to put a task that an individual thinks is difficult off because they think they lack the ability to do it perfectly, or because they are afraid to fail at the task. Many ‘chronic procrastinators’ would rather have people thinking they lack effort rather than thinking the lack the ability.

In short, many procrastinators put things off not simply because of a lack of self-regulation, but for a fear of not being able to reach maximum potential. In addition, most people who procrastinate on a regular basis feel some time of guilt for doing so. Although there are no real quick solutions to procrastination other than ‘plan out better’ or ‘make a schedule’, many argue that procrastination is something that goes away with time. However, I personally don’t believe that to be true. Many researchers say the only way to stop someone who is used to procrastinating from doing so is to allow them to fail if they’ve put something off for too long, as that is the only way they will learn to stop doing so.

Personally, I have a lot of experience with stress. Many factors affect this, including moving multiple times, and having to make really big decisions at a very young age. However, my main stressor is procrastination and meeting deadlines, as mentioned earlier. Every time I’m assigned a task to do, I tell myself: “I will start working on this task as soon as I get it, and I will not be stressed about not having finished it only two days before it’s due.” Although in all honesty, this never works for me. I simply do not have the ability to finish something along an orderly timeline, and I think it prohibits me from doing productive things in my free time, as I’m so stressed about something I could have done weeks earlier. I think the reason I do this is because I know that my work always turns out better when I have a lot of pressure on me while working on it. The irony is, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to what I hand in, but I simply can’t put in the effort to make it the best I possibly can.

Although it frustrates me to no end, I do believe that being a procrastinator helps me deal with stress better than anyone else I know. Whilst everyone in my class worries about not having done something a few days before the deadline, I don’t get stressed, because I know that I’ll be able to hand in something decent in time. Whilst people around me freak out about the smallest of things, I’m able to stay calm in almost every situation, because I’m used to being in stressful situations, so my ability to withstand difficult situations is significantly higher than many people’s. However, I do notice that sometimes stress takes a large toll on me without me realising it for a few days. I get really bad headaches, I’m always tired even if I get a large amount of sleep and I get very anxious at times. I don’t really do anything to cope with this, and it usually passes in a week or so.

Throughout this unit, I’ve learned that stress goes beyond being a feeling of anxiousness at the back of your mind; it affects you physically and emotionally too. Additionally, while researching for this essay I learnt that procrastination goes beyond simply a lack of time-management skills, and has a much deeper psychological meaning in many cases. However, I do think it’s extremely ironic that we are to write a 1,000 word essay about what stresses us out, when for the most part, it’s those unnecessarily long essays assigned to us that put the most pressure on us. In conclusion, I’ve learned a lot about the psychology and reasons behind stress through this unit and essay, and think that I have a different outlook on stress and its effects than I did before.