Society mistakenly associates stress with productivity, success, and resilience.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most stressed out of them all? Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, you’ve probably come across the modern version of this question in a conversation like this with your friends: “Oh my gosh, I’m so tired. I only got four hours of sleep last night because I was up late working on a project, and then had to wake up at 8 a.m. for a meeting with my adviser.”
“I know! I pulled an all-nighter for my 20-pager last night, and now I have to write another paper tonight.”
If you do recognize this — as we’re sure about 99% of you do — you have just witnessed and/or participated in stress one-upmanship.
What is stress one-upmanship?
Stress one-upmanship is a competition between you and your peers to prove who is being placed under the most demanding and stressful circumstances, from an overload of homework to extracurricular activities that meet for hours on end to an intense semester internship.
“I actually have dealt with this quite a bit, since one of my good friends in college was a big one-upper,” says one anonymous senior from Northeastern University. “Any time I would say how I was tired, she’d have to be even more tired, or if I had a lot of homework, she always had to comment about how she had so much more. Usually the comment would start with ‘Don’t even talk to me about…’ and go on to rant about why everything was worse for her.”
Bragging about stress is a little messed up when you stop to think about it. After all, stress can lead to a number of terrible consequences, from memory loss to sickness to isolation to unhappiness. Why should we be proud of that?
Why we do it
Our society mistakenly associates stress with productivity, success and resilience. If you’re still awake to tell the tale of that 20-pager, you’re an unstoppable, working machine, and you can take on anything. If you’re not filling your free time with 5,000 extracurriculars, then you must not be taking full advantage of the opportunities available to you. In other words, if you’re not stressed, you can’t count yourself among the other die-hard collegiettes who are challenging themselves to see just how little sleep and minimal relaxation time they can handle.
Dr. Rick Brinkman, a public speaker and naturopathic physician, distinguishes between venting and wallowing about stress. Venting, he says, “is done with the positive intent to feel better. It has an endpoint (a time frame). … If, however, there is no positive intent [or] time frame … then the act of [wallowing] about one’s busy schedule with another person can actually make [the situation] worse.” Wallowing, unlike venting, is not therapeutic, because you’re augmenting the negative aspects of your schedule instead of complaining and then finding a way to protect your physical, emotional and mental well-being from the ill effects of stress.
Click here to read about what you should do instead when dealing with stress one-upmanship!
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