NATHAN PILDIS — Special to Southern News
Stress is an all-too common feeling among college students. It is unfortunately considered a normal part of life, but what is stress?
What causes it? And how do we free ourselves from it? Stress is fear of the future: fears of that test next week, or of that unknown social situation. But does it help? My own personal experience says not at all.
I feel that stress is a distraction that limits our ability toenjoy everyday life. So why, then, do we feel stress and anxiety?
In the evolution of the human species, stress has served as a survival mechanism. Back when humans weren’t on the top of the food chain, it made perfect sense to worry about the future. If you weren’t worried about those pesky Sabertooth tigers, then you might end up being their lunch. The most worried individuals had an evolutionary advantage and survived to pass on their stressful tendencies to their children. That is the Darwinian objective: procreate and pass on your genes to ensure the survival of the species.
At one point, stress helped us survive as a species, but this time has come and gone. In modern society, simple survival is no longer a concern for most of us. And yet, we humans still have this innate tendency to worry. We displace the stress that helped us to survive onto situations that don’t have anything to do with survival. These anxious feelings that once made it possible for humans to have children are the same feelings that kill us off before we get the opportunity to meet our grandchildren.
According to the American Cancer Society, chronic stress increases the risk for heart disease, obesity, depression and various other illnesses (cancer.gov). To put it plainly, stress is outdated.
So if I don’t need stress anymore, how do I eliminate it from my experience? First, I should let go of the desire to control everything. The future is unknown and it will stay that way, until it becomes the present, that is. Stress keeps my mind in the future, an imaginary place that exists nowhere but inside my own head. I hypothesize about all of these horrific things that could happen, poisoning my own emotional well-being. While my mind is off in this fantasy land that we call the “future,” I neglect the one time that I do have control over, which is now.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care about the future; we should recognize the limits to our control. Paradoxically, it is an empowering practice to understand the limits to our power. In this way, our energy is not wasted on things out of our control (i.e. worrying about the future). We can be fully focused here and now. We can embrace the present moment, which is in fact, all that there ever is. We can breathe. We can start fresh with every breath. With our attention firmly focused in the present, we needn’t worry about any time that is not now because no other time actually exists.