The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Will Stewing

    Renee Rosenow

    The ability to remain rational and responsive in stressful conditions is an important attribute for astronauts.

    Among the many tests astronauts are given, one involves a computer system that gives the astronaut instructions to hit specific buttons, but the buttons themselves are unmarked and it is up to the astronaut to figure out which button corresponds with a given order. Of course, in a good experiment the subject doesn’t know the reason he or she is being tested. Given the arrangement, astronauts would presume that this was a test of their problem solving skills, and initially it is.

    The true test, the “catch” if you will, is that just as an astronaut is establishing a correspondence between buttons and orders, the scientists flip a switch and change the role of one or more buttons. The purpose of this experiment is to test the self-confidence, patience and determination of the test subject.

    Typically, the astronauts blame themselves for the resulting mistakes and the experiment will continue. The scientists continue to re-assign the buttons, confounding the logic, and ultimately the patience and self-confidence of the space cadet. The experiment ends when the astronaut ceases to use discretion or logic in responding to the computer’s commands.

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    The space program wanted those that continued to try new combinations and find a solution no matter what. They figured if the astronaut was going to pilot a ship made entirely of lowest-bid parts, it was likely that things would malfunction and their determination to succeed had to extend beyond their self-confidence and reason.

    I’ve often mused that the true purpose and value of earning a college degree isn’t about knowledge, skills or any of that. Instead of a degree, the university is really conferring upon you a warranty of sorts, saying that it has put you through an extensive regimen of tests meant to test your sanity. It is a seal of approval saying you can thrive, or at least survive, in a toxic environment of stress, exhaustion and a diet consisting of Ramen noodles and pizza.

    A few days ago, after a busy day, I returned home and plopped down on the couch. Seeking shelter from stress, I flipped on the History Channel just in time to see a program on the possibility of a universe-wide apocalypse.

    In this scenario, black holes warp the very laws of physics before bubbles of altered atoms swallow everything up. I flipped off the television just as a program on the Doomsday Clock was getting started. (Midnight on the Doomsday Clock represents the “moment” in which humankind destroys itself through nuclear war or, more recently, biological or environmental catastrophes. We are currently five seconds from midnight). It is easy to sweat the small stuff when 15 minutes of television reveals not one, but two ways, that a miniscule particle can destroy everything.

    If ignorance is bliss, then it should come as no surprise that the more we know the more there is to worry about and it would seem reasonable to conclude that college will always be a little stressful. Does this mean we need to be filled with stress? Is it our duty to worry about all of the problems of the world? I don’t know, but here is another excerpt from my life.

    The other day, I was hefting my backpack up when the bottom felt wet. I quickly realized that I hadn’t set it in a puddle, but rather, there was something wet in the bottom of my bag. I opened it up and was immediately struck by the smell of bananas. I pulled the books out of my bag, including two that belonged to my professor, only to discover that they had already been marinated in the contents of an exploded banana. I was mortified that I had damaged the professor’s books and was consumed with self-loathing until I returned the books.

    I returned the books to the professor and was in the middle of explaining how sorry I was when the professor said something that put this calamity into context for me. She said something like, “There are people sick to death, this is not something to stress out about.” Amidst a week filled to the brim with stress, it was very calming to hear my problems put into context.

    What I’m driving at here is nothing new: we need to do something about stress. I could go on and on with all the resources online that talk about managing stress at college, but I’m a strong believer in peer education and feel confident that UW-Eau Claire students have valuable stress solutions for their fellow classmates.

    So, if you’ve found a really great way to deal with stress, e-mail me at [email protected] and put “About Stress” in the subject line. I’ll put some of the ideas that I receive before 9 p.m. on Wednesday in my column next Monday, along with your name.

    Stewart is a senior education major and a guest columnist for The Spectator. “Will Stewing” appears every Monday issue.

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