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Good Stress vs. Bad Stress: How to Know the Difference

We usually think of stress as a bad feeling, but did you know it can also be a good thing? Stress is often a useful motivator to overcome difficult or challenging situations. So what's the difference between good stress and bad stress? To narrow down what type of stress you are dealing with, we recommend asking yourself the following questions.

1) “Is it normal to be stressed in this situation?” There are always going to be difficult chapters throughout life's journey, and sometimes it's completely natural to be stressed out in a given situation. For students, applying to colleges and universities is an inherently stressful endeavor. It requires keeping track of important due dates, deadlines, individual school requirements, application fees, and much more. Higher education is meant to be a challenging experience, and gaining acceptance to a prestigious university isn't supposed to be easy! There's nothing wrong about feeling overwhelmed with this transition – that's why most schools employ staff college counselors and offer application workshops for students. The more important thing to ask yourself is if you've done everything you can do help make the process as approachable as possible. Which leads us to our next question...

2) “Have I done everything I can to minimize the stress of this situation?” Let's say a professor has a classic method of instruction and announces that the final exam will be worth 80% of your grade. Even if you've done well on quizzes and haven't missed any classes, just knowing that one test decides so much of your grade is still going to be a bit scary! That's normal – everyone feels pressured before big exams. But here's the part where it's important to ensure you've done everything in your power to make a stressful situation as “stress-free” as possible. A student that prepares responsibly and studies in advance for the exam may still be nervous on test day, but that's what we'd call “good” stress – placing importance on their academic success is a positive motivating factor. So what's an example of “bad” stress? In the same situation, the student that is nervous on test day because they missed class and didn't study is going to be stressed as well – but not for the right reasons. Which leads us to our last question...

3) “Will this stress be worth it?” It might seem obvious, but sometimes it's important to ask ourselves if we're stressed for the right reasons. Consider firefighters, EMTs and emergency room doctors – they have incredibly stressful jobs, but their cause is well worth the challenges they face. If a student is working hard towards a goal they are passionate about, then it's alright to get frustrated once in a while. Whether you're a student studying for a difficult exam or an athlete training to be in the Olympics, the question is still the same – “Is it worth it?” If you genuinely feel that the end result will make all the hardships worth it, then persevere!

We all get stressed from time to time. It's an unavoidable part of life, and learning how to deal with stressful situations is a beneficial skill that shows growth and maturity. So next time you're in a difficult situation, try asking yourself some of these questions. You may just find it's worth the challenge!