It is finals time again and there is a distinct sense of panic and stress. It is expressed in the groans after a new paper is announced and in quick steps of a student running from class to class. In the libraries, it pervades like a suffocating heaviness in the air. Everyone is intently scribbling and just as impatiently flicking eraser dust off their papers as if they feel the pressure bearing down on them. In an environment such as this, it is almost obligatory to feel stressed when you see everyone around you in a similar state. It suffuses even the brief moments of relaxation. Immediately, I feel guilty for letting my guard down even for a moment, as if sitting outside and enjoying the breeze could kill. As college students, we expect stress, even joke about the dread. Yet, there seems to be a consistently unasked question: Why are we stressed at all?
Perhaps, unconsciously, I want to feel stressed. Stress, after all, is self-inflicted. It is not my teachers or even my parents that are forcing me to meet some arbitrary standard of performance. It is only me behind the judge’s table. It is paradoxical and illogical. Somehow, I’ve become both the man dying of thirst and the shifting mirage he chases. The freedom and independence of college is a double-edged sword. Now, there is no one left to blame. There is a trap in setting these impossible expectations. We get stuck in a perpetual cycle of disappointment and stress and often don’t even know why. When that stress vanishes for even a second, I question why, instinctively creating more. Stress is so effective at drowning out everything else. But it is also a shallow feeling devoid of any meaning, but panic. It is as if all we chose to hear was the drone of the alarm instead of music. It becomes a buffer against feeling or thinking about anything too deeply. Then, when the homework is gone and the tests are over, all we are left with is an inexplicable emptiness.
Yet for all the stress, this weekend was an unexpected joy. People crowded the Diag, relaxing on hammocks, flinging frisbees in open defiance of the foreboding libraries standing guard over them. Perhaps they had found the solution after all. We often take stress for granted. In the end, it is really a choice we can choose not to make.