Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reducing Stress in 5 Steps!

Now I don't know about you guys, but I'm kind of an expert in being stressed out. Some of you may remember last October and November, and then again in March when anxiety problems got the best of me. I'm starting to feel a lot of the same symptoms again because of all of the crazy things that happen around midterm in my more-than-stupidly-busy schedule, but I'm so much more prepared this time because of my willingness to seek out help the last times it happened. I figured many people can relate, but don't exactly know where to start bettering their habits and moods, so I'm going to give a list of things I do to help with stress. I can promise you they work, too--this semester has had the most that is expected of me, and still I don't feel nearly as stressed as I did last fall or spring. So here goes!

1. Talk to people about your problems. Nothing puts things in perspective better than just hearing yourself articulate them, and the people who care about you can give you wonderful perspectives. Make sure that at least some of these people you actually meet with IRL--I know it's easy for us internet folk to stick to our computers in our room, but meeting with real people, hugging the stress out, all that cheesy stuff ACTUALLY WORKS!

2. Organize yourself. A little bit of planning, a little bit of a neater work environment, and attacking problems with a clear goal in mind can make a huge difference in the efficiency and effectiveness of getting lots of tasks done. This also means that you want to go at things one-at-a-time; you may think multitasking is efficient, but it's really just rationalized distraction! A good, focused, thoughtful approach to one task can get the task done better and faster.

3. Take breaks. I once timed my activities for the day and found out that I have a tendency to spend four to six hours a day being non-productively awake. However, upon further examination, I found out that several of those hours actually were productive, but in different ways--it takes time to wake up, to go to sleep (discussed later), to eat meals, etc., and those are important activities. After subtracting all of those, I found that I spent one hour being entirely unproductive (i.e., napping, on the internet, watching TV, etc.) I fully expected to convince myself that this hour needed to be filled with work because I have so much to do. This turned out to be the opposite of what actually happened--I realized that this hour is a pivotal one in which my brain recovers so as to be able to do the work it needs to do. So, let me reiterate: TAKE BREAKS. THEY ARE IMPORTANT.

4. This one's a biggie: get adequate sleep, and if this is difficult for you, adhere to a strict bedtime routine. I have the blessing and the curse of being a light sleeper; it means I have trouble going to sleep at night, but it also means that when my alarm goes off in the morning I can pop right out of bed. This resulted in a lot of early-morning work and a lot of mid-afternoon burnout. My bedtime routine saved my life. It is as follows:

a. Shower (usually starting between 10:00 and 10:30). For me, this is a great way to put a barrier between work and sleep--I make sure to check everything I need to on my computer before I shower, shut off my computer, and do not turn it back on until I wake up the following morning.

b. Journal. I keep a journal where I literally just purge my brain of everything running through it. This has several benefits: 1) I often end up working out things that have been bothering me, which means I don't toil over them as I go to sleep; 2) Anything I worry about remembering to do the next day comes to light, and I can add it to my planner; 3) I usually end up deciding that every day was a good day, no matter what happened, and that makes me go to sleep content--and trust me, I've had some pretty bad days.

c. Read. After journaling, getting engrossed in a book seals the deal of just turning my brain off to worries. I like to do this laying in my bed, so that I'm already beginning to doze off. A word to the wise, though: psychologists say that your bed should only be used for sleep and sex. If you find yourself awake after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something until you are tired enough to go to sleep. You want to classically condition yourself, essentially, to associate your bed only with what it's made for so that you can speed up the process of getting to sleep.

d. Sleep! It's that easy. I used to take forever to actually get to sleep, and now I hardly remember anything after I turn my light out and roll over. I generally need 7-8 hours to actually feel good the next day, but this can be different for everybody. I am dubious of anybody who says they can adequately run on six or fewer hours, though.

5. If something is really, really weighing on your mind, write a two lists: in one, write everything that worries about it; in the other, write what you can do about every point listed in the other. If the answer is "nothing," then what use is there in worrying about it? And if there is a solution, why not go and do something about it? The effort itself can relieve your stress.

And now I suppose I should get back to my 4,000 word research project due on Thursday. No wait! I shouldn't. It's bedtime!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


There's a guy in my music history class who's incredibly socially awkward and apparently quite bad with names. He was my partner for the first-day ice breaker exercise where we had to introduce ourselves to each other and then introduce each other to the class. I guess because of our connection through this exercise, he is extra-sure of himself, but strangely enough is entirely wrong: he thinks my name is Max.

Now, normally I would have corrected someone who has my name wrong early on in order to save them the embarrassment , but something stopped me this time.

It could have to do with the fact that when I was little, Max was among the top three coolest names in my head (the higher-up ones being Chris and Greg.) It could have to do with the fact that he's just so awkward that it's funny to have that moment with someone else when they get that look on their face like "What did he just call you?"

But honestly, I think it has more to do with the fact that when he calls me Max, I get to be, if only for a brief second, someone else. I get to be an idealized version of myself. I get to fabricate a life that helps me forget momentarily that I am human.

You see, Max wouldn't have the stresses that seem to be plaguing me. Max wouldn't worry that the money he's spending on the food he needs for the week would prevent him from buying the reeds he needs for the month. Max doesn't go to sleep at night feeling like the work that he's done that day is only a fraction of what he needs to have done when he wakes up. Max keeps in touch with his friends, no matter how much time it takes, because he realizes that they're more important than the facts he arbitrarily has to memorize. Max gets in the hour of exercise he needs to feel healthy. Max makes delicious meals quickly with fresh ingredients. Max is spontaneous and doesn't worry too much about the consequences of letting his hair down for a bit. Max is on top of all the paperwork he has to be doing. Max doesn't feel guilty for being the biggest expense to a family that's just run into some trouble. Max has a plan for next year and is taking steps toward it.

Unfortunately, Max isn't real. And the second someone says "Hey Steve!" they snap me back to reality, and I have to come to terms with the fact that I cannot say all that about myself. I have to accept the fact that I'm imperfect, that people expect more of me now than it's physically possible for me to supply. I have to face the world knowing that I'm entirely unprepared. Once I leave college, and most likely the country, I know that nothing I've done the last four years has actually prepared me for what I will experience, with the exception of how to do my job.

But maybe I'll take a page from Max's book and see it as an opportunity for adventure.