By Kelsey Weiss
One of the headlines that seems to reappear in news outlets nationally is the state of the economy and just how it affects the current job market for college graduates. Coupled with the influx of highly qualified candidates needing to pay off student loans, competing for attractive positions has become the new status quo. Suddenly, the eager post-graduate with a dynamic résumé sees his dream job evaporate, instead going to the applicant with years of experience.
This competitive market is especially true in the public relations industry. With each passing year, the crop of qualified communications specialists grows; so, what does that create among those at the undergraduate level pursuing a PR degree?
The answer is simple: stress. The pressure of maintaining an impeccable list of experiences in order to have a competitive edge can cause stress among those striving to be the best among their peers. For PR students, this burden can wreak havoc when trying to balance life and create that all-important résumé.
What’s the point?
As a result of today’s working world, there seems to be a new phenomenon called “the ‘busy’ trap” – or, staying busy for the sake of being busy. Students, particularly those studying communications or PR, seem to respond, “Yes!” to each and every opportunity that comes their way in an effort to tick off their annual to-do lists. But, what real benefit does that provide to students whose real job is to learn how to manage time and communicate effectively?
In order to avoid being overly busy and thus stressed out, it’s important to know what opportunities are worth their pursuit – and when. When overloaded at a certain time, Ron Culp, a veteran corporate and agency public relations executive who now consults and serves as professional director of the graduate program in PR and advertising at DePaul University in Chicago, says it’s all about how you say no to a project that may put your schedule into overdrive.
“Finding a way to say ‘no’ without using that negative two-letter word is important to career success. Never use it in a knee-jerk manner. Think through how to frame a negative response by making sure others understand why you might be jammed at a particular point in time. Attempt to leave the impression that you’d really like to help if you weren’t working on so many other things right now,” Culp said.
The need for work-life balance
While being well-rounded is a worthy pursuit, students who are consistently busy neglect to understand just how important a work-life balance is in keeping stress at bay. In a recent article in Huffington Post, Jenny C. Evans details just what that stress does to our brain. The chemicals involved in prolonged stress don’t just cause symptoms like “distraction, forgetfulness, negativity or anxiety”; they can cause structural changes to the brain and shrink neurons that form in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible “for learning, memory and emotional regulation, as well as shutting off the stress response after a stressful event is over: all much-needed processes in both our professional and personal lives.”
Particularly at the collegiate level, learning lasting, healthy habits for a reduced-stress lifestyle is critical to keeping out the effects of long-term stress. Without learning what it means to work and live simultaneously, it doesn’t take much to reach burnout.
What can be done?
There are plenty of tips out there to help reduce stress. But, what specific tips exist for those in the field of PR? Since the field is proven to be a breeding ground of stress due to the nature of the work, it’s helpful to understand what practitioners recommend to do in the shoes students hope to fill. Culp has a simple tip on how to combat stress. His advice? Keep perspective.
“In most cases, no one is going to die from what we do. While demands on us can be intense at times, maintaining perspective is important. When under stress, I mentally repeat to myself: ‘This, too, shall pass.’ And it always does,” Culp said. “And keep smiling.”
While this tip is beneficial as a mental way to cope, there’s also a simple physical way to fight off the stress. Stephanie Myers, an account coordinator at The Abbi Agency, said her advice is simple: make sure to focus on your nutrition, whether that’s eating well, exercising or getting a good amount of rest.
“When I was a student, and even into the first stages of my professional life, I gained a lot of health problems from [stress]. I can’t stress enough how important it is to take care of yourself . . . Maybe it might be worth it to be stressed out for a semester or maybe a year, but I don’t know if you can ever put a price on your own health at the end of the day. If you’re good at what you do, your bosses will see that and your mentors will see that. There’s no point in killing yourself,” Myers said.
The significant skill of knowing when to say no will benefit students as they prepare to enter the workforce and try to balance much more than class and extracurricular activities. By combining stress-reducing skills with a killer résumé, students will no doubt find success in the ever-changing world of public relations.
Kelsey Weiss, a native of Peachtree City, Georgia, is studying public relations and entrepremneurship at The University of Alabama. Active in several campus organizations, Kelsey also is an editor of Platform Magazine, where this article originally appeared.