Experiencing Secondhand Stress

By Gino Diguilio

Grab your backpack, find a comfortable spot in the world, go to Starbucks and buy the absolute largest cup of coffee they offer (preferably something with enough caffeine to keep a small elephant awake for an extended period of time) and get prepared for a mental breakdown or two … or three. The middle of the semester is about to hit us and just like every other semester, it will hit hard.

This is my third year at this university and to be completely honest, you would think I have grasped the idea of time management, balancing three jobs (one that forces me to travel the country every weekend) and school work, as well as my social life by now. I haven’t and I am sure the majority of you haven’t either. So at least we are in this together!

Unfortunately, this semester’s midterm stress is different for me. In fact, I wasn’t stressed at all before this week. I thought I was organized, prepared and was ready for smooth sailing through the middle of the semester! That was until I saw a handful of people in the library having mental breakdowns and panic attacks right before my eyes … Then it hit me like a semi truck; the instant feeling of anxiety, apprehension and straight up panic for absolutely no reason.

My chest tightened, temples pulsed and I began frantically reviewing notes and started pumping out emails to professors and other students because I felt like I wasn’t doing enough in comparison to the students I saw.

What in the world was happening? I went from jolly Gino to restless Gino in a millisecond. I was experiencing secondhand stress. I’m sure you all have experienced this to some degree also. This is a real psychological condition and it runs rampant in our productivity-infatuated culture. It has lasting effects and can sometimes be mistaken for other types of anxiety and stress.

Disorganization and forgetfulness, failure to communicate and random outbursts of inadequacy are just some of the manifestations of secondhand stress. Once you find evidence of secondhand stress, it is a good idea to take care of it as soon as possible. Especially since midterms are upon us, and the workload will only intensify with time.

Now, I may not personally know you, but nobody deserves to go through anxiety and stress to that degree. So here are some ways to help manage your secondhand stress (or just self-created stress for all I know) before it manages you.

First, try to be aware of what is happening in your life. Being completely oblivious to your mental health will most likely force you into a deeper realm of stress/secondhand stress and even depression. Know when it is happening and take charge. Next, create healthy habits. So no, that bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, as delicious as it may be, is definitely not going to help you out all that much when you are experiencing stress.

Lastly, dress to repress — a phrase I use when I dress like a bum. Allowing yourself to be comfortable mentally and physically will help alleviate some of the anxiety. Repress all of those emotions and get yourself back on track!

Now, as the midterm season kicks into high gear, pay attention to your surroundings, your mental health and your friends’ mental stability. We are all in this together and stressing out is not the correct answer to our problems. And if you don’t take this advice, just remember to go in the cubicles in the library before you start publicly crying. Call it your “me time.”