By Amanda Cardini, Editor-in-Chief
The end of the semester is typically a time of high stress. Between final exams and group projects, extracurricular activities wrapping up, and the looming promise of the holidays, students end up juggling their various commitments. When anxiety seems threateningly overwhelming, finding a way to pull through can greatly impact the way tasks are accomplished.
One of the biggest reasons we stress is because we are afraid of an unknown. Many anxious thoughts can be traced to this, though it may not seem like it when you take them at face value. For example, stressing about a final exam can be a fear of the unknown questions the test will ask, or a fear of the potential grade you’ll receive. Even worries about failing are, at their core, a fear of the unknown; we do not know whether or not we will fail, and we cannot know until we take the test. The focus on the unknown is both unhealthy and unhelpful.
However, if we reframe our fears to focus on the known(s), we can put our minds at ease and keep anxiety at bay. In the final exam example, instead of focusing on the mere possibility that you may fail, you can shift your focus to the wealth of knowledge you do have that has prepared you for the test, and what you have done to prevent failure from happening. How many hours have you spent studying? What do you actually know? By simply remembering these things your focus shifts to the potential you have to pass, and your mind is refocused on a positive instead of a negative.
Other stressful events might not be as cut and dry, but the same logic applies. Having anxious feelings about things like starting a new job, or moving to a new city are all completely normal, but are rooted in the same type of fear. A new job might cause worries that you won’t perform well, and a new city can be daunting with unfamiliarity and a lack of existing relationships. But all of these fears are unkowns. Instead, focus on taking steps towards bringing your best self to work every day, or familiarizing yourself with your new city and being outgoing towards people to make friends. When we focus on the knowns, we reduce and diminish the unkowns in the process.
Allowing yourself to get worked up over things that you have little control over, or that you do not know the outcome of, is a waste of energy. It often paints a bigger, scarier, more stressful picture than reality. Rooting your thoughts in what you do know instead of what you don’t know makes a big difference in the way you perceive stressful events. Oftentimes it even causes you to “time travel” to the future and build out a scenario that might not even occur. When you feel yourself time traveling, take a moment to breathe and remember the knowns.
The law of positive attraction is certainly a school of thought that has its critics. But even if you are skeptical of the ability of the mind to actually attract tangible things, it should be common sense that the more you focus on something, the more it becomes your truth. If your self-talk is consistently negative, you will eventually come to believe the thoughts you are telling yourself. When it comes to stress and anxiety, allowing these thoughts to have free rein over your mind-space is akin to shutting down and giving up. The more you focus on the unkowns, the more your brain will allow itself to treat these as fact, when in reality they are complete fiction.
Alternatively, placing your attention on the knowns is likely to make your self-talk positive, and this is where the power of positive thinking blossoms. Thinking positively and visualizing positive outcomes mentally will build confidence, increase happiness, and result in more favorable events. The more you picture yourself succeeding, and tell yourself the reasons you are likely to succeed, the better chance it has of actually happening.
We all deal with stress on a daily basis, but editing our thoughts to handle stress effectively takes practice. When you catch yourself focusing on unkowns or time traveling to a distant future, remember the knowns. Redirecting your mindset to a positive, hopeful place can make all the difference.