As finals week draws near at Missouri S&T, there are a few phrases that can be heard from the mouths of most students on campus: “I forgot to sleep last night,” or “I have four tests, two projects, and a presentation due this week,” or, the classic, “I still have time to take a five minute nap before my exam!” It seems that as the semester comes to a close, stress is taking its toll on students. When accompanied with negative habits like a lack of sleep and poor nutrition, stress from finals week can feel unmanageable. However, there are several positive effects from stress that are often overlooked.
Positive stress, or eustress, is interpreted as stress that is beneficial to the receiver. In contrast to negative stress, otherwise known as distress, this form of psychological pressure is motivating and leads to a feeling of accomplishment and success. Eustress can drive students to do well on exams, push them to complete difficult tasks, and stimulate them to reach their fullest academic potential.
According to an article from the World Journal of Medical Sciences, when first presented with a stressor, the two different reactions, distress and eustress, can happen simultaneously in an individual. What makes the difference in which type of stress prevails after the first encounter depends on the individual’s perception of the situation and the accompanying emotions. Knowing the characteristics of eustress and applying them when faced with a large task is a proactive method to manage stress in a positive way. Dr. Vilma Ruddock, M.D., an expert on stress management, says factors that can help individuals respond positively to difficult situations include, “a belief system and mindset of hope, great expectations and a positive outlook on life; belief in yourself and your ability to manage the task/stressor; your perception that you have power and control over the situation; you expect the best of yourself and others expect the same; (and the) expectation of a reward.”
For students that have not yet experienced true eustress or are prone to procrastination, difficult tasks with approaching deadlines can seem daunting and the idea of turning the negative stress into positive stress hopeless. Think of it this way: a student is given an assignment to write a fifteen page paper. He opens Microsoft Word, and the blank screen stares back. As he considers beginning his assignment, his only goal is to reach the fifteen-page requirement, a task that now, seems impossible. The trick to channeling eustress in situations such as these is to focus on change instead of the end result. By making a to-do list and crossing off bullet line items as they are completed, each small step taken in dealing with the stressor will feel like an accomplishment.
There are several other ways to turn distress into eustress in order to mitigate its negative effects. One way to alleviate negative stress is to create a clear action plan. Utilizing a planner to organize tasks and deadlines during finals week can help individuals feel in control of the situation, reduce uncertainty, and minimize worry. Another way to maintain positive rather than negative impacts of stress is to build a support system. Keeping up with friends, family, peers, and professors that can provide comfort, motivation, and support, is crucial to maintaining a productive outlook during stressful situations. Finally, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and finding time for relaxation during finals week can help students ease their anxiety.
It is true, finals week at Missouri S&T is no easy feat to overcome. It is not hard to get caught up in all of the commotion and feel defeated. For most students, it involves countless hours of studying, writing reports, memorizing terms, and practicing calculations. Even with all of the exams and due dates, applying techniques to trigger eustress instead of distress will allow students to feel motivated, confident, and, when finals week is over, incredibly accomplished.