I am probably not the foremost authority to talk about taking care of yourself during times of stress. In fact, if you spoke to my undergrad friends, especially roommates, they would probably laugh at the idea that I am writing something of this sort. However, speaking as someone who has abundant experience with stress, though far less in dealing with it in a well-thought out, healthy manner, I can at least feel reasonably sure of myself writing about the ways you should not deal with poor situations and possibly good reasons for not getting into bad habits regarding such issues.
When I was in my freshman year of undergrad, I picked up a bad habit to deal with stress – smoking. I’m not going to waste your time going into the bad qualities of smoking (since everyone under the sun probably already knows). However, I will say this, it did help me to deal with stress to a degree. It was not the nicotine or anything like that. The part that helped me was putting everything down, walking outside, and taking deep breaths (or draws on my cigarette). Sometimes friends would be with me that I could complain to or brainstorm new ideas with. Even without having a sounding board, just taking that ten or fifteen minute break away from everything gave me time to slow down and think things through.
When I get really stressed out, I have what my friends and I would call “active panic attacks” meaning that I would actively make decisions and carry things out during the beginning and middle of a panic attack. This was almost always a terrible idea. The good thing about my friends being around is that they could stop me from at least making permanent decisions, or ones that couldn’t be easily fixed. Almost no important decision should be made in the middle of a panic attack, especially since it is likely to lead to even more stress than before.
This being the case, it is perhaps best to remember that when worse comes to worst, a good way to deal with the situation is to take a step back, consider your options, look from a new perspective. If a situation is irrevocably stressful, then try to remove yourself from it, if only briefly, in order to decide how to best proceed. It is understandable, especially during this time of year, for any student to get stressed out. Papers and final projects that take a lot of time and effort and make up an absorbent amount of our grades are coming due, things that we probably should have been working on little by little over the course of the semester, but haven’t been. When a twenty page paper is due within a couple of weeks that makes up 40% of a grade, and that is only for one class, it’s easy for stress to become all-encompassing and unavoidable. However, it is also important to understand that when dealing with such a project, the best work that one can do is not going to be done in the midst of a panic attack. Rather, one needs to consider their decisions clearly and calmly, and start with their best work so any project needs a lesser amount of revision that one may not have time to do.
However, having a strict schedule may be a way to deal with this partially, but only if you follow through with such methods. I can plan all I want, but, more than likely, I’ll end up working on something right up until the date it is due simply because I have a hard time following things that require self-discipline. This is a fault of my own, but one that others likely exhibit as well. It is difficult to understand or anticipate how much work is going to go into a project before you start actively working on it, so I have a hard time planning for it. I also have a difficult time not going over time limits for work, especially if there is no official reason for those limits. A friend of mine likes to watch TV and work on craft projects at the same time. She finds this easy to do, and it helps her to keep her hands busy while she gets to enjoy the show she is watching. However, when commercials come on, she uses those breaks to read for pleasure, so she can get some reading done. I have spent a lot of time with this friend, and have watched her do this on more occasions than I can remember, and even tried to follow her example. Though, try as I might, I either end up continuing with the craft project through commercials, or get caught in the book, and don’t even realize that the show has come back on until half way through that section or into the next commercial break. I find it impossible to follow such a schedule. I tend to like to work on one project through to its completion rather than have multiple interruptions that jar me out of my thought process and the mindset of the project. However, sometimes, the best course of action is to take a small break. Unlike my friend, I cannot stop to read, because I’ll get lost in the book. I don’t like to stop to watch a bit of a show, because I’ll watch the entire thing and not just five or ten minutes. Also, usually I need a break to think things through, and if I simply read or watch TV then I’m not thinking about the project that I need to. This being the case, whether I need to take a break to brainstorm or because I am getting frustrated in a more general way, I’ve found that a cigarette break is perfect for either. It gets me away from the cause of the stress, gives me something to do actively that does not interrupt my thought-process, and, in some ways, limits the amount of time I can actually take a break for (depending on things such as temperature outside and how many cigarettes I can smoke prior to my throat hurting too much to continue).
I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and buy a pack of cigarettes, nor trying to romanticize smoking. I’m merely pointing out a way in which I can step back from a project and consider options and decisions prior to making them. I think that this is one of the best things for people to do during a stressful time. Brainstorming is always a good thing, and can often lead to great ideas for a project, but finding the time to do so, especially when you have a flashing cursor in front of your face taunting you about things that you need to accomplish but don’t know how, is difficult. I smoke. My friend reads or works on a craft project. Others go for runs or walks. Some might just go out to get coffee. Some call people on the phone to talk. There are many different ways in which breaks can be taken to get someone to have a few minutes to separate themselves from actively working on a project and calm down. It is better to have a calm state of mind when trying to do any project; one simply needs to find a way that works for them so they can take a quick break and then jump back into what needs to be done. That’s part of why a lot of our projects are so stressful; they have to get done, regardless of anything else. We simply need to find a way to identify when we need to take a step back and relax before we reach a point where the stress is too overwhelming to continue working, because that is what we really cannot afford. Short breaks, frequent enough to keep us from being overwhelmed is vital to good work and our survival through the end of the year without having some kind of break down. So, find how you function calmly, your best stress-relief, and get to work, because have to get these thing done, and we will make it through, even if it is just to do it all again next semester.