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Stress: friend or foe?
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Forty years ago, when I was a student in grade 12, a very important man visited our school. This man was the Right Honorable P. E. Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada at the time. A man full of charisma, an intelligent man but nonetheless a busy man. What I had found interesting is that as busy as he was he took time out of his busy schedule, to speak to a group of young students. I remember having two questions then. Why did a busy man such as the Prime Minister spend time with high school students? And secondly what amount of stress does this man have? I guess the answers can vary but what I would like to think is that firstly the Prime Minister visited a secondary school because the youth of any country is of the utmost importance as they are the future leaders of the land, and secondly that yes, this man is busy with important decisions to make that affect millions of people daily, and that is stressful in its own right.  


In my fifty plus years I have learned that all people have stress. When you work too hard you have stress, but I also learned that boredom is also stressful.  Life is full of stress. Only dead people do not feel stress. Stress is an indication that you are sensitive enough and caring enough to do a good job at whatever you do. I would like to think of stress as a motivator instead of something necessarily bad. How much stress can a person take, before he or she breaks down? I guess that would depend on the person but I do know that people have been exposed to very severe stress before it came close to killing them, so I think that the human body can take a lot of punishment before it gives up. However, I am not suggesting that we allow ourselves to come close to that by any means. My point is that we should be cognizant of the amount of stress in our lives and making the necessary allowances so that it does not break us or at the very least affect the way we behave.    


I think that stress should not be thought of as a beast to try to eliminate. I would rather think of stress as a force of nature. It is the force of nature that makes the prey run faster than the predator because it is in danger. I am suggesting that instead of fearing it and trying to fight it to eliminate it from our lives, perhaps we should try to understand it, harness it, and redirect it towards a positive outcome or goal or result. If we can use it as a source of energy we can use it towards our own benefit. So, we need to recognize the stress, study it and find ways to use this energy without allowing it to destroy us. All athletes and performers will agree that they do feel stress before any event. I would like to compare our stress with the stress put on a stretched string on a bow, which is at its maximum stress level before it actually breaks, but just before it breaks we release the tension on it and that will set off the arrow gliding through the air on a graceful flight towards its target.    


I talked about the amount of stress and the allowances that we can make to alleviate some of the stress. What can we teach our students to do in order to prevent the stress from reaching alarming levels?  Just like an engineer designs a bridge to withstand various stresses at different levels such as earthquakes at all levels on the Richter scale, or winds from a light breeze to hurricane force, floods, and even ships crashing into them. The bridge is meant to survive those calamities. You too must learn to build-in those allowances.


What allowances can you build in as a student? Well first identify what causes your stress. Is your stress due to a lack of understanding of the material? Is it due to a lack of time to complete your assignments? Is it because you are too sleepy first thing in the morning? Is it because you are unorganized? Is it because you cannot find any of your materials? Is it because you do not know how to conduct research or how to write an essay or do math? Is it because you do not know what the school rules are? Is it because you think that you don’t get along with your teacher? Is it because you feel like an outsider? Is it because you don’t have enough friends? Is it because you feel you are different?  There are a million and one things that can trouble a teenager’s life. Once you have identified what you think is wrong by speaking to your parents, your teachers, your counsellors, your friends and other relatives you can assess the level of your stress and start to take action. Don’t just get angry and frustrated but stop, stay calm and think. Your problems may not be as big as you think they are.


When you feel stress, it is an indication that something is wrong and you should start researching what is wrong and how to fix it. When you let your problems affect you in a negative way then that should be your signal that something is wrong. Take control of your situation, your emotions, and the exterior factors. Take charge of them and be in control. Don’t let them dictate how you will behave, be in control and make a plan of action. Complaining without any action plan will not help anyone. Put a smile on your face and do research on the set of skills that you may be lacking.


Look up organizational skills, time management skills, note taking skills, communication skills, presentation skills, public speaking skills, financial skills, social skills, in some cases even anger management skills or whatever other skills that you are lacking. Education is more than just learning facts. It is about becoming an integrated, caring, understanding, tolerant, and a clear minded citizen in an ever-increasing globalized and complex world. So understand that stress will never go away. Like a speedometer tells you how fast your car is going your stress level gages the unsolved problems in your life. So stop, stay cool and think!       


Steven Katsipodas

Principal of Huamei International High School


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