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Dealing with stress and pressure

Year 11 student, Paige Mackenzie, shares her thoughts on managing and coping with stress

A note from the Author:

When I finished this op-ed, I realised how relevant it was given the year we’ve had so far. I know a lot of my classmates struggled to gain their bearings after lockdown, and this forced me to look at how people react to stress from both an external and an internal perspective. Going into lockdown, everyone seemed to take it in their stride, and it wasn’t until we got back to school that everything started to hit at once. The image below is a painting I did not too long ago, and this is something I do to refocus my thoughts in difficult times. I hope that those who read this are able to gain a sense of clarity, and that in the future they can recognise and find their own stress relief to help them get through any challenging times.

 

Pressure is something we all have right? It’s inevitable. Deadlines, exams, family issues – it can have a huge impact on your life, or it can be very little. It all depends on the task, and how impactful it is to your mental state. But does it really have to be? Do you control the amount of stress? Or does stress control you.

I believe stress and pressure are personalised, and that everyone copes in different ways for different reasons. I think that the right amount of stress can be good for you if you are pushed in a way that fits your mindset. And finally, I think that pressure and stress can change (become less or more) if it involves a person or a possession in your life that is very important to you.

It makes sense that pressure and stress would be different for everyone, as no human is the same. We all go through incredibly different things. There’s a particular response that people have called the three f’s or F3, and this is the Fight, Flight or Freeze response, an inbuilt system designed to protect us from danger. Everyone has a response; however, we all experience it differently, in a way that reflects our experiences.

 

Many people think that this response only kicks in when there is a physical danger, such as someone breaking into your house, or even if you see someone else being threatened. However, this is actually linked to stress and anxiety, meaning you can potentially act on this response, and not register it. For many people like myself, it’s not until you are under a physical threat that you suddenly figure out your own response. Fight means you fight, perhaps focusing more, flight is when you run or try to escape.

My response is the freeze response. Not the most helpful of responses, but since this is an inbuilt response I can’t change it. This also means that if I’m under a certain amount of stress, like an exam, I could freeze. Writing this now, I freeze often, as I get stuck for words and thoughts. But it’s interesting because as I sit here frozen, I look around to gain inspiration or to gather my thoughts, and I can’t help noticing that some people are doing other work, and some aren’t doing work at all. Is this their coping mechanism? Perhaps they aren’t under any stress?

Everyone’s minds work in very different ways and it would make sense that we would have different stress tolerances. For example, my friend Charlotte and I deal with stress in very different ways. She seems to respond better to physical aid, and someone that listens to her, whereas I prefer to get help from advice, and time to work it out alone.

In small amounts, pressure can be very effective and motivating. We had a health class recently and we’ve been talking about stress and how people usually assume it to have negative effects. But lately, we’ve been forced to see the motivational side of the stress. I was in a team and we made a pie chart of ideas of how stress is beneficial.

The third most mentioned was that stress makes you warier of dangers. This one isn’t as well known, but it’s interesting that people thought of it, and it links with my last point because I spoke about a physical reaction under danger or threat. It’s interesting that people can recognise and relate a physical danger and an amount of stress.

The second idea that came up in the survey was practise dealing with stress, which is good if you know how to reduce it. Finally, the one that came across the most was productivity. For example this op-ed draft, at this point I’m not sure it looks remotely like an op-ed which is quite stressful, and I’ve been able to get a good workflow, and just enough motivation to keep going. This however is a pressure I’m putting on myself, and when it becomes external, for example, your parents wanting you to get an excellence, there is usually a fair bit of extra pressure.

I personally think that the stress I put on myself is enough to motivate me, however, the pressure can get a bit overwhelming if the external pressure gets placed on top of it, and it would push me to a point where it just gets too much and that’s when mental breakdowns happen. Sometimes the pressure I put on myself is enough to tip it over.

I watched a film recently in English. (If you’re interested it’s called “Remember the Titans”) The main theme was racial inequality, but a subtheme was teamwork. There was a character called Herman Boone and he was a football coach, and because he had darker skin everyone was against him being their coach. As the movie was about a team, it has already established a strong theme of teamwork. When Boone first started coaching the team, he was told that if they lost a game, he wouldn’t be allowed to coach.

Coach Boone was the sole source of income for his family and if he lost the job his family and himself would have to move. Because of the added stakes, Coach Boone resolved to work harder and added a new word to the team – perfection. Because if the team was “perfect”, Coach Boone wouldn’t have to put his family in financial crisis.  His stress was increased because of the pressure of him bringing down his own family with the team. He was a good leader because he was able to channel that stress into focus and developed a perfect team.

I also think that stress can be lessened if it’s taken off by someone you love. I had a math exam and just didn’t understand some of the things that were very important to get a good grade, and telling my parents lifted a huge weight off my shoulder. They were able to help and lowered their expectations so that if I had a low grade it was okay, because they knew that I had asked for help and done my best.

Stress is a big, heavy weight that leaves people feeling low and exhausted. Recognising your own response to stress can help you to figure out your best way to deal with pressure. Turning it into a positive can be a very motivating experience, as can turning to the people you love, and who love you, for help. Don’t put up with something that is causing you mental turmoil, go see someone that can help you.

By Paige Mackenzie, Year 11