Reframing How We Talk About Stress
A lot of college essay help is framed around reducing your stress– guilty as charged. But maybe what I mean is: reducing your stress about your stress.
A recent NYTimes article examined stress in young people and how we go the wrong route, as grown ups, when we try to protect them from it. All organisms, of which we are one, need some stress to stimulate growth, change and adaptation. It’s good for mental and physical muscles. To a point.
Not all stress is created equal
But what we mean by this is tolerable adversity. I’m not talking about the stress of psychological or physical trauma, systemic racism, sexism and classism, of the gnawing stress of extreme hunger, poverty, discrimination, illness or abandonment. Those are of a different order altogether.
I am also guilty as charged in my personal life of caving into the stress mentality or what my brother-in-law calls “Manufactured Stress” (Did you say that, John?)– or things that became stressful because you got stressed about them. I mean, watch me: I can get stressed when we run out of carrots and that was what I was counting on offering my toddler for a snack. If that isn’t some serious non-problem problem, I don’t know what is. I’m lucky they sell carrots on the corner, and I can afford them. But my nervous system is on ORANGE ALERT: DRAWER DEVOID OF CARROTS.
Look at your life (as we all must do when we write personal essays). Is there some area where you might do this, too? Stress, if you will, incorrectly? Or frame stress incorrectly, as a negative, when maybe it’s just a spur to..go to the store for more carrots?
(But, please, unless you have something incredibly insightful to say, don’t write your college essay about running out of carrots…)
What is “college essay” stress…really?
So our teens are STRESSED ABOUT THE COLLEGE ESSAY. I would argue, however, that their stress is really about having to do something kind of hard, and feeling under-equipped or over-asked. The expectations loom large on their shoulders, and some are hoping to go big or go home. Some have entire family lineage’s resting on their necks. Others are the first in their families to break into the ranks of higher ed. So it’s STRESSFUL, and writing can feel like removing inflamed splinters from a sunburn.
The struggle may be real, but that doesn’t make it bad. What we grown ups can do, once we’ve dealt with our own carrots of lack thereof, is help our young people, our students faced with writing essays and other challenging tasks, is help them reframe their stress. Maybe it’s something to welcome, that will take their organism to new heights of experience and ability.
It’s almost like you could INVITE the stress, because you’re going to BRING OUT YOUR INNER WARRIOR to face it.
I may freak about carrots and other missing veggies in the privacy of my own home, which children ransack daily, but I also know how to help a young person see a carrot for what it is: something to reach for with effortful joy and a serious dose of aspiration.
So I won’t say let us help you reduce your college essay stress but…let us help you use your college essay as a positive stressor. Or help you tell your stories in a way that puts some other source of stress to really really good use.