One of the things that I want Life at the Mesa to offer is a completely transparent outlook on the things that matter to you and your health. From topics on nutrition to those that pertain to mental health, I want to talk about the reality of what can influence your health, happiness, and well-being. With that being said, today I wanted to share my experience with stress as a college student and some insight on the things I have learned. Stress can be defined as a physiological and psychological response to a perceived threat. The key word to pay close attention to is the word perceived. Perception is a key factor to stress because each of us has a different outlook on life and the things that make us stress out. For that reason, I wanted to share with you a recent picture I found on my laptop that embodies my perception of stress before I understood how to cope with it.
This beautiful picture that I have chosen to include carries an important message about stress and particularly preventing it. Back in December of 2015, I was a sophomore in college working 36 hours a week, interning 15 hours a week, and attempting to juggle all 16 units worth of my classes. I was a complete and total wreck emotionally, mentally, and clearly physically. The pressure of my busy schedule made me feel as if I was drowning and that I had no control over my own life.
In that exact moment, I remember breaking down as I attempted to finish my final paper for my Chicano Studies class. That day, in particular, I was running on 3 hours of sleep and feeling like a complete and total failure. I had cried so hard and told my boyfriend that I wanted to drop out of school because I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I said that I would never make it to the end and continued to talk down to myself. As I continued to emotionally unravel, I remember my boyfriend grabbing my phone and snapping this picture. My immediate response as you can see from the look in my eyes was complete and total disbelief because I thought to myself, “are you kidding me, I’m having an emotional breakdown while you have fun watching?” Initially, I was really upset but once I stopped screaming and gave Adrian a chance to speak, he made me realize something very important.
The Turning Point
Adrian told me to ask myself if there was anything I could have done differently to avoid the situation. At first, I said no but then he asked me again. The more I thought about it, I realized there was and that my entire emotional breakdown was self-inflicted. Then Adrian asked me to take a minute and think about why I moved from home in the first place. Did I really move away from home to work a minimum wage job? No, of course not. I moved away to pursue my higher education and to find out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The thing is, I was trying so hard to be the perfect employee, student, girlfriend, daughter, and mentee all at once but never once took the time to make sure I was mentally and emotionally okay.
The point my boyfriend was trying to get through my head was that I needed to prioritize the things that were the most important to me to avoid burning myself out. Had I only stepped back to prioritize and check in with my emotions, I would have seen all the warning signs that I was headed toward an emotional breakdown. Although we can’t always control our sources of stress, we can control how we react to it by changing our mindset. Stress happens to the best of us, but the magnitude of it is completely dependent on your perception. If you let stress overtake you, then you let it win and put your well-being at risk. But if you are able to take the time to step back and realize what your priorities are, you can save yourself the unflattering breakdown that is the result of my picture above.
Now, you may be wondering why I have kept such an unflattering picture all this time but the answer is quite simple. That picture is a constant reminder of how far I have come in both my professional and personal life. Looking back at that picture now doesn’t make me cringe quite like it used to because I took it as a learning opportunity. After that day, I promised that I would never make myself feel that way ever again. Not only was my stress self-inflicted, but I made it worse by listening to the negative thoughts in my head. The worst thing you can do when you are feeling overwhelmed is to attack yourself with negative thoughts. If you want to change your outlook, show yourself the love and respect that you would to someone else. I truly believe that certain situations happen in your life to teach you something and this experience was one that I will never forget.
That emotional breakdown could have been the defining moment of the rest of my college career had I given in to the negative thoughts and stress and actually dropped out of school, but I didn’t. Instead, I picked myself back up and came back stronger than ever. That next semester I made the Dean’s List, was nominated for the community engagement award and found the career of my dreams along with a wonderful mentor to help guide me.
When life gets difficult and overwhelming, you always have the choice to push through or walk away. As tempting as it can be to surrender everything and give up, never forget your reason for starting in the first place. I always knew since I was a little kid that I wanted to go to school and graduate with a college degree. Regardless of the stress, my determination to succeed was always bigger than my desire to quit and that still holds true today. Although I still stress out from time to time, I no longer dwell on things that I can’t change but instead look to the future and focus on ways I can prevent myself from being in the situation I found myself in 3 years ago.
I hope this post helps you to put your stressors into perspective and realize that you do not have to let stress win. Regardless of what has you stressing, you always have the opportunity to change the way you respond and think about it. Stressing about something that has already happened won’t do anything to benefit you. Changing the way you react to future situations can mean the difference between achieving those goals or not, ultimately the choice is up to you.
Take care and best of luck!