Saturday, May 17, 2008

College Stress

Stand Clear Of The Closing Doors Please
By Alejandro M. Fernandez

Moving obstacles, a flight of stairs, a 100-meter dash, a waist-high hurdle, a second 100-meter dash, a second flight of stairs, a 50-meter dash, moving stairs, countless moving obstacles, a final 200-meter dash, and two flights of stairs separated by a five-foot island of concrete gives way to men in blue uniforms blowing whistles and waving their arms, suits and blackberries, dogs on leashes, women juggling coffee mugs and purses, and the occasional skater punk.

This is not a scene from a Stanley Kubrick film. It is not an Olympic training regimen or a creative child’s dream. It is the third part of a seemingly endless routine. My routine.

As a college student who commutes daily from his parents’ home in Union, N.J. to the Upper East Side of New York City, I often hear a variety of comments. Some people belittle me. They suggest my concerns are nothing compared to theirs. “Your laundry is done for you, you don’t pay rent, you don’t need a job (since you don’t pay rent), you don’t have annoying roommates, and you eat a home cooked meal every night,” haunts me like that catchy tune you cannot get out of your head. Others pity me.

They assume I have limited freedom, overbearing parents who refuse to let go of their (21-year-old) baby, a hectic commute, and a lackluster social life. “We’re missing out on the college life,” says Michael Durnin, a fellow commuter, “the good part at least”.

So who is right?

According to the University of Florida Counseling Center (UFCC), both the cynics and the sympathizers are correct in their assessments. Everyone suffers some form of stress, regardless of whether it manifests itself in the form of credit card debt, class deadlines, a mid-life crisis, or an uncertain future. Stress happens. Not only does stress happen, it has to happen. “The challenges of life tend to be stressful and an attempt to avoid stress completely would lead to a rather boring existence,” says the UFCC.

Would Vincent Van Gogh have painted “Starry Night” had he not suffered some sort of stress? Did Albert Einstein develop the theory of relativity and make sense of E=MC² under stress-free conditions? Probably not. Before cutting off his left ear and committing suicide, Van Gogh channeled his stress toward productive ends. He painted what turned out to be (expensive) masterpieces.

I am not suggesting that everyone should seek the most unbearable levels of stress imaginable in order to contribute to civilization. As the UFCC points out, the environment, personal thoughts, and society present us with enough stressful situations. Too much stress might even have negative effects like “muscular tension, high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, headaches, backaches, irritability, mood swings, and forgetfulness.”

The important thing is recognizing stress and managing it. So take a yoga class. Eat a salad. Read a book. Miss your train.Hearing Charlie Pellett’s familiar voice saying, “stand clear of the closing doors please,” might be the perfect remedy to your stress.

It forced me to wait for the next train and finish this story.