The word stress is defined in the dictionary as ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.’ I’ll take my chances and bet that most of the work expected of university students create quite adverse and demanding circumstances for us. Yet, not every student self-diagnoses as ‘stressed’. Then, what causes this strain or tension to emerge?
Despite the unclarity of what was causing us stress, there was enough consensus about such feeling looming our philosophy class in the period of thesis writing. Thus, the study association organized a ‘Stress Management’ afternoon.
The event consisted of three stages. The first was a talk by Nolen Gertz, one of our faculty professors. He convinced us that all this ‘stress’ we were concerning ourselves with was self-imposed. Then he advised us to think of our thesis as just another task we were required to complete. Among other tips, he encouraged us to ask ourselves whether we could justify the angle of our research to the graduation committee. Could we succeed in explaining why we had chosen such topic and method of research at all? He did that in his own distinctive didactic style, of course, by bluntly asking us, ‘who cares?’
Silence took the room for a couple of minutes. Clearly, answering this question would be a useful strategy to engage the committee in our research. But I thought that perhaps deep down, the question was supposed to remind us, too, why we ourselves were motivated to choose this field and object of study in the first place.
Not knowing how it worked, at some point during this talk I felt an urgency to just go and get my thesis done. I wanted to run to the first desk that crossed my way, open my laptop and finish writing the whole damn thing. But the ‘Stress Management’ afternoon was just starting. So, in the spirit of broadening my perspective on ‘stress,’ I stuck around for the following activities.
After an afternoon of guided meditations, outdoor games, beers and even a free neck massage, I finally got back home. The ‘who cares?’ question continued to haunt me. Would I be able to justify to the faculty members why I chose my topic and method? Could I ever be sure that I had convinced them?
I found relief in the fact that, after all, at least I still cared. Why would students continue to submit themselves to all this crazy workload if we didn’t believe in what we’re doing? It would be tragic having to endure such ‘adverse and demanding circumstances’ if we had stopped caring at all.
But why do we care? What’s so important that we think we need to do or say in such a challenging environment? Perhaps if we could just translate the answers to those questions with our work in paper, we would complete our theses faster than by condemning ourselves with all the self-imposed stress in the world.