Are you stressed or just busy?

Taking a break from my busy life by exploring New Mexico

A lot of people, myself included, throw around the word “stress” whenever they feel that they have a lot on their plate. It almost seems like being stressed, or saying you’re stressed, is the cool thing to do in college and in life in general. I have found myself in numerous conversations with people competing about who has gotten less sleep or who has more midterms. “I stayed up till 3am studying” gets a “wow you’re so committed” rather than a “wow, your time management skills must suck”. Since when was denying your brain and body sleep something to be praised? In my opinion, we need to save the word “stress” for when it is really warranted and try to reframe our daily chaotic lives as “busy-ness”.

Taking a (spring) break from my busy schedule by exploring New Mexico

Taking a (spring) break from my busy schedule by exploring New Mexico

I recently listened to multiple TED Talks about stress and learned some pretty amazing things. Researchers have shown that the way you think about stress actually effects what stress does to your body. People who think stress is harmful and something that should be avoided are a lot more likely to have stress-induced heart attacks, binge eating and violent outburst. This completely shocked me. I didn’t understand how just thinking something was bad for you could make it bad for you. I had to get to the bottom of it.

Turns out its all about how you frame stress in your mind. For example, I had two midterms, one paper, 15 hours of paid work, 10 hours of job shadowing, 15 hours of class, two homework assignments and a dog to take care of all in one week. Now I could be completely stressed from all of this, or I could just be busy. Being stressed associates negative connotations with all of the activities I have planned for that week. I might start to loathe the fact that I have so much schoolwork and forget how lucky I am to be getting an amazing education in a town I love. I might let myself get grumpy and not reply to my friend’s messages because “I’m just so stressed”. Framed as stressful, I probably won’t enjoy my week at all as the weekend is the bright stress-free light at the end of the tunnel pulling me through. On top of this, my health will deteriorate at a much faster rate than if I were simply busy.

Norlin Library - CU Boulder during finals week

Norlin Library – CU Boulder during finals week (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Instead, if I chose to see all of my activities as the fragments of my life that help keep me busy, productive and entertained, I might have a better week. Framing tests as a way to challenge my brain (a little bit like a bike race from my memory) and job shadowing as an opportunity to explore my future career choices, makes my week sound exciting rather than stressful. I might be busy, but busy is good. I remind myself that I like being busy, thrive off of doing as many things in my day as I can, and always get sad when I’m bored. Even though I am doing the same things, by not being “stressed” I am able to have a more enjoyable week and my health is improved!

My challenge to you this week: See how you can reframe your “stress” as “busy-ness” and tell someone about it! For example, tell someone how you are so excited about all the things you will accomplish this week rather than complaining to them about all of the things you have to do. Don’t join in with the lack of sleep competition but relish your sleep as you know it makes you so much more productive the next day!

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