Staying positive under the weight of college

A student writes about how her anxiety is not a flaw, but rather a strength.


“How do you handle stress?” 

“How do you cope with all you have going on right now?” 

Questions like these keep popping up at job interviews and in everyday conversation, especially with finals week quickly approaching. 

This time last year, the answer would have been “I don’t.” I’ve come a long way since then.

This time last year, I was worried I was going to fail a course. I hated what I was studying, and I questioned if I was good enough.

I ended up passing, but I changed my major and now my grades are better than ever. Now, I love my coursework, and I have a clear path ahead of me. 

I didn’t know if I could afford an apartment. Now, I am set to live with my best friends near Main Campus next semester. 

I was upset about being the only one in my circle who wasn’t in a relationship. Now, I have been with my boyfriend for more than eight months, and I am the happiest I’ve ever been. 

The tides of my life are constantly changing, and I’m carried by the current, sometimes drifting through riptides and others floating in clear waters. 

I’m only a sophomore in college, so I understand this is not the most stressed I’ll ever be. People who know me would not describe me as laidback or carefree. I’ve always been an uptight, anxious person, but I’m beginning to realize it’s not a flaw. I see it as a strength. 

It has made me hard-working, proactive and motivated. I am not content sitting on a couch all day watching Netflix. I can’t sleep when I have an assignment due the next day unless it’s complete. I simply don’t operate the same way many of my peers do. And it can be frustrating, especially in group projects, when we don’t see eye to eye.

But it’s more beneficial than harmful. 

I have a lot of reasons to be stressed out; I have a stressful home life, I focus a lot of energy on my grades so I can get into the program I want. I work two jobs and regularly worry about paying my rent. 

Sometimes, I even worry about being able to continue my studies at Temple University with the increasing price of tuition. 

Throw in some extracurriculars and just daily life aggravations into the mix, and you’ve got my very own recipe for disaster. But my secret is I know the final product always ends up just fine.

Nonetheless, college, in general, is full of anxiety; take a scared, naive young adult, and put them in a new place with new people when they’d been living under their parents’ roof for 18 years. This is enough to make the adrenal glands, which produce your stress-response hormone, cortisol, hyperactive. 

It’s important to remember that even during your worst times, you are in a place of privilege. Some people don’t get to attend college and have completely different burdens than homework and commitments to student organizations.

But how do I manage my stress now?

I remind myself of three things: 

First, if it isn’t going to matter in a few months, it’s not worth stressing about. Many things stress me out at any given moment, but I know a year from now, I might even laugh at those things. 

Second, even though it’s cliché, everything happens for a reason. When something stressful is happening to me, I know eventually I will see some positive outcomes come from it. 

Third, it’s only temporary. We’re all in different stages of life. You could be living in a boring stage you just want to skip, an exciting stage that you never want to end or maybe even rock bottom.  But when one ends, another begins. They don’t last forever. 

My life is still far from perfect, and I’m stressing right now as I’m writing this, but I will not crack under the pressure like I almost did last year when it felt like nothing was going my way. 

Instead, remember it’s actually possible to thrive under pressure. 

I enjoy working two jobs. I get a thrill from taking an exam and knowing I did a good job because I studied hard. I like walking miles around the city to stay busy. 

That’s me, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. See, the key to not being overwhelmed, especially in college, is not eliminating stress. That’s outright impossible. Rather, keep in mind this is only one pixel of a much greater picture.

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