Stick to the big picture when facing semester stress

Sean Kennedy

Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy

It can be difficult to find perspective within the myriad of obligations one faces as a student, combined with the sheer amount of information the average person is inundated with on a daily basis. This is enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed as the semester picks up speed going into the autumn months.

How can we get a grip on our lives when there’s so much going on in our worlds? One strategy I find useful when I feel swamped by school work, life events and the like is to examine my actions in relation to the big picture, the grand scheme of things.

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Adopting this view is useful in my opinion because it helps individuals size up the impact of their decisions on the physical and mental aspects of their life and determine what it is most important to them long-term. Considering one’s actions in this light is not only helpful, but it is also important in practice because even the smallest actions in a short-term window by individuals can have effects that last far longer.

Take the issue of guns and other firearms in America, for example. Weapons sales in the United States have been shown to spike after violent shooting events and calls for increased gun control. Many news agencies noted dramatic increases in weapons and ammunition sales after Obama took office and spoke about gun control, after the Newtown shooting and again recently after the multiple high-profile shootings around the country that occurred in August. Whether motivated by fear for one’s own safety or the potential impairment of the ability to purchase weapons, the point is that these sales’ booms occurred due to individuals’ reactions to short-term events without considering the perspective of the long-term situation.

When examined from a big-picture perspective, many people – including myself – might be surprised to know that crime in the United States has dropped by over half in the past 25 years, according to reports from the FBI, and that violent crime is currently at its lowest levels since the 1970s. Granted, it is easy to be subject to worry and fear when modern news cycles can be dominated with coverage of violent events, but a focus on the long-term factors can help clear short-term distractions that obscure the overall truth of a situation.

This adherence to the big picture can also be useful in saving oneself undue stress or emotional exertion from over-scrutinizing things in their environment that may be out of their control. For example, whenever the plaza on campus is visited by “religious advocates,” many students have strong reactions to their displays, be it personal offense or annoyance. These plaza preachers often draw crowds of hecklers and curious bystanders as they passionately expound their beliefs, but unless we have a student population burgeoning with curiosity of extreme viewpoints on morals and personal conduct, the spectacle is not worth anyone’s energy. With the exception of plaza guests who slander students or those who illicit violent reactions, the plaza preachers are largely ignored by a majority of campus, and their behavior only has as much of an effect as we allow it to on a personal level.

This is perhaps the biggest takeaway from this monologue: Everyone constantly makes choices on an individual level – how to think, how to feel, how to act – based on the innumerable amount of interactions they have with other people and sources of information in their world. Regardless of how collective any person, group or culture may seem, the chief focus of everyone falls to the self on some level.

With this in mind, it is easier to remember that you are the sole judge of how much anything or anyone in your environment may affect your decision-making on a personal level. It is up to you to fulfill yourself as you see fit through whatever means inspire you most, and keeping an eye on the big picture can help you maintain internal balance as you strive to do so.

Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @seanskenn