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This piece appears unedited from a free choice writing essay I was assigned in 11th grade IB English
Written June 7th 2019

On Stress

Let me prelude this piece by stating that I am by no means suffering from anxiety or chronic stress. However, stress is a universal symptom of the human condition, made painfully evident in my community of overachieving high school students driven by self-centered, success-driven parents pushing their children to succeed as extensions of themselves. To be stressed is the condition of high achievement, afflicting AP students, athletes, the career driven, and any other number of hard workers. My own personal experience with stress is that of an AP student.

We all deal with stress differently. Some of us lay awake at night worrying about the past, present or future. Some us of us develop ticks like fidgety hands or a bumping leg. My own stress has manifested itself in an acute coffee addiction, and the nagging feeling that I must always be doing something productive. I remember during the summer of my 10th grade year in High School, agonizing over the football depth charts and wondering if I would ever be good enough to reach first string. To deal with this stress, I closed myself in my room, put on my headphones and blasted the Eagles into my head until I could think again.

Stress is a peculiar thing. I strongly believe that stress is our natural state of being, and yet it is incredibly irrational. There is always something stressful in our lives, yet as soon as we eliminate that specific anxiety from our lives, some other anxiety steps up to take its place, no matter how small. For years, I was stressed about football, and my role on the team. When I finally quit this year, my stress adapted, manifesting itself in the college question, watching me over my shoulder and presiding over all I do. This anxiety and stress is a symptom of the human condition, a simple fact of life. As individuals living in the 21st century, stress is a constant just as it was for our ancient ancestors alert to the sounds of predators. Stress is a survival instinct, just as important in the age of information as it was in the stone age.

Once it is established that stress is natural, a constant in our busy, 21st century lives, we need to ask ourselves is stress positive? On one hand, it can be argued that stress allows us to accomplish what would otherwise never be achieved. For example, my constant desire to busy myself being productive allows me to finish my homework promptly, sometimes days ahead of time, and it has nurtured in me a love of reading and working with my hands. However, the more popular train of thought on stress, regards it as an incredibly negative aspect of mental health, responsible for suicides, depression and anxiety. Over 75% of people regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. This includes feelings of alienation, anger, nervousness, depression.* The typically irrational nature of stress means that you can feel all this impending doom for no reason other than your human nature.

Among my peers at Newport Harbor, a school particularly infected with overachievement and anxiety, stress displays its true colors in sickening black and red. I honestly believe that I could approach any arbitrary student on campus, and they would say they are currently infected with stress. This horrifying truth reached a crescendo with Patrick Turner’s horrifying suicide last January. He left two heartbreaking notes which placed the entirety of the blame of the pressures that schools, in this case CDM, and society raise on students.** Clearly these intense pressures, which affect everyone differently, have reached terminal proportions. What bothers me most however, is how quick we were to dismiss this cry for help, and continue on with the rat race of GPAs, sports, and college acceptance. It has only been a year and a half since Patrick took his life, and yet nobody even remembers or talks about the weight of his message. Admittedly I had to use Google just to remember what his last name was. People were quick to throw blame. It’s the teachers! “It’s the school!” “It’s the college acceptance system!” “It’s society!” Why is it that we are so determined to drive ourselves to the edge, simply in the pursuit of achievement?

As a student of Newport Harbor I know exactly why I do it. I do it for my parents. I do it for my teachers. Most importantly however, I do it for myself. For college. For the future. I believe I have a healthy view of stress. It is a terrible sickness of the human condition, but when viewed through the correct lens, a powerful ally, that brings out the best in us. A desire for achievement has driven me to always take the hardest classes, and to always do my best. The difference however, lies in our motivation, and our ability to overcome stress. Because I do it all for myself, I think of stress merely as the price I pay for personal fulfillment. I know I would be happy with nothing less.

What is stress? Stress is our natural state of being, a sad symptom of the human condition. Stress is irrational, everything in life can be perfectly fine, and we can still be left wide awake at 3 am, paralyzed by fear and anxiety. Stress is a negative. It can cripple us, driving us to the brink, sometimes pushing us over the edge. But stress is also a positive, it can help us accomplish what we need, and drive us to fulfill our full potential. Above all, stress is a constant.