“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:27, 6:34
Each of us goes through the day with a lot on our minds. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, our brains are continuously taking in and processing information, then making decisions based on that information on a minute-by-minute basis. And we do it subconsciously. To dissect and evaluate each and every decision that we make throughout the day is self-defeating and harmful.
It’s a good thing to care about your daily tasks – keeping your house clean, feeding yourself, making sure you complete your assignments on time. Keeping these things in mind, and being practical about getting them done, shows great strength of character and a well-developed sense of personal responsibility. I feel this goes without saying, but I say it anyway, because I want to draw the line between worrying and self-imposed anxiety.
Imagine that you have a test coming up, and you’re unsure if you’ll do well on it. If you value your grade in the class, you’ll begin to worry. Worrying doesn’t feel good, so you look for a way to be lessen the feeling. One of the best things to do in such a scenario is to sit down, review the lectures, review your notes, do practice problems and email your professors with questions until you know the material.
That is a practical and effective solution to your problem that should make you feel less worried, because now that you’re prepared, you have far less to worry about. However, if you don’t do anything, then you don’t find a practical solution, and the worrying doesn’t go away; it gets worse.
This is what self-imposed anxiety is: stress that we, sometimes unknowingly, place on ourselves, because bearing it in the moment often feels easier than our ability to find and work toward a practical solution. And each of those moments that we spend not looking for practical solutions will eventually add up. Not only is the task continually getting harder as we run out of time, but we want to do it less and less the closer we get to the deadline.
Before we know it, the test is here, we take it and whatever happens, happens. But then, we learn for the future; the next time we have a test approaching, we remember how bad it felt to dread the upcoming exam and, hopefully, that’s motivation enough to sit down and get ready for it.
While these anxious feelings are often brought on by unpreparedness, let’s look at the same situation from the perspective of an over-prepared student, facing the same feelings, but for opposite reasons.
Imagine the test is coming up; you start to worry. So, you sit down, take notes and prepare yourself to the best of your ability. You understand the material, and you had a good night’s sleep the night before, but you’re still worrying. When the test starts, you’re so gripped with fear that you can’t perform well, and even though you know the material inside and out and finish every question, you keep worrying.
You worry the next day, and into next week, about a test you’ve done well on and came prepared for, stressing for nothing once you realize that you’ve aced it – exactly as any outsider would have expected.
But in the meantime, all that panic has made everything that you dealt with today that much harder, and now you start to worry even more, and the cycle repeats.
Most of us would agree that this behavior isn’t always healthy. Stress and worry exist to motivate us, to an extent, and anything having the opposite effect is unpleasant and counterproductive.
If at any point you feel stressed, especially about something easily solvable like a school assignment, do just that: find a solution to the best of your ability. If you need help, ask someone. All you can give is your best, but you must truly give your best.
And if there is no solution, or you gave the wrong answer and the time has passed, let it go. Learn from the experience, and try again next time. You’ll do yourself no good looking back when the hurdles keep coming from the front.
So, the next time you find yourself stressed, worried or racked with anxious feelings – about anything, not just issues related to school – take a moment to ask yourself: is this a problem? If your answer is no, then don’t worry; if yes, can you do something about it? If you can’t, don’t stress, but if you can, then give it your all.
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