Advice on Stress Management from the Patron Saint of Students
This time of the year can be when stress levels can start rising among those of us who are studying. Exam dates are starting to appear and the pressure to get enough study done in time and to do well starts to mount. There’s a lot of information and awareness about stress management around these days but some really sound practical advice comes from St Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of students. In his main work (Summa Theologiae which was originally written for theology students), he has a section which is called “On Remedies for Sorrow” which, in modern can be seen as a guide to stress management.
A basic principle to understanding and applying anything that St Thomas Aquinas says is balance. So St Thomas Aquinas understands that some pressure or stress can motivate us to get some study done. At the same time, too much stress can also stop us from being able to work productively. Therefore, some stress can be good but not too much and the amount will differ between persons and at different times. If we can’t work, it’s either because we’re under too much stress or there’s not enough stress.
Below is a short overview of St Thomas Aquinas’ advice on dealing with too much stress. (If there is not enough stress, get someone to nag you – parents, guardians and teachers are generally pretty good at it.) Basic principle, again, is balance.
This sounds pretty basic but, when we’re under too much stress, trying to do something fun or enjoyable or looking for some form of stress relief is probably the last thing we’re thinking of. Sometimes we just need to work through the stress, sometimes we need a bit of a time-out and sometimes we just need to do something enjoyable. However, a balanced form of enjoyment is important as too much enjoyment can make us stressed again when we get back to work.
St Thomas Aquinas noticed that, while laughing and smiling can make us happier, letting out negative feelings can actually help us feel better. Today we understand this principle as ‘stress release’ so it’s important to find ways to let out stress through writing, music, art, exercise etc. It’s better to find some form of outlet than to bottle up our stressfulness.
Sharing our problems with others (particularly someone we trust, especially a friend) has a number of benefits. It’s a form of release or we might get a different perspective on the issue or just knowing that someone cares about us can help us feel better. Balance, again, is key as we don’t want to overburden others but a little bit of sharing our problems can go a long way
If you want a particular saint to pray for you if you’re about to sit an exam, try St Joseph of Cupertino who is the patron saint of those taking tests. (if you want an entertaining telling of his life, try watching The Reluctant Saint. It’s available on YouTube in Black and White but you’ll get a few laughs out of it).
However, Prayer is not only about asking God for help, it’s also about talking to God about what’s going on with us and also having a chance to look at the bigger picture in life and to keep things in perspective: to hear what God wants to say to us and to let us know that God’s got things under control even if it doesn’t seem that way.
Here, St Thomas Aquinas actually uses the examples of having a nap or a warm bath. However, what he is really getting at is that proper care of our physical health is important as well as our mental, emotional and spiritual health. St Thomas Aquinas understood that all these parts of ourselves interact with each other and, if one part is not well, the ones will suffer too.
So, there you have it, St Thomas Aquinas’ advice for stress management which can be summed up briefly as taking care of ourselves mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. It might sound simple and obvious but often the best advice is a lot easier said than actually carrying out.
At CYM, we’ll be especially praying for those taking exams over the next couple of months so hopefully that can give some peace of mind if you’re sitting exams in the coming months.
St Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.
St Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.
Written by Fr Brennan Sia (Youth Chaplain for the Archdiocese of Perth)