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!


  1. I have this absolutely horrible problem where I feel as if I work better under a lot of pressure. (aka, a day or two before said 15-page research paper is due) I know it's horrible, but I can't break myself of it, mostly because I have a ton of other stuff to do too.

    Now, however, I have six final projects to do before December, and I'm fairly certain I'm still going to do NaNoWriMo. So... I'm attempting to get things done way beforehand now, but still having problems motivating myself. The simple weight of "Do it now or make yourself sick later" isn't enough right now, so I'm going to have to figure out a rewards system...

  2. For some reason, this blog post made me want to cry. And, I feel like this might just be an awful and entirely adequate indication of the stress I'm under. So, perhaps it's a good thing that you've posted this, and that I've read it. Thank you, Steve, I shall heed your advice; or at least attempt to.

  3. I've been having a pretty stressful time myself. Today in one of my classes I started making a To Do list, and then I just could not stop writing stuff. More of it just kept coming. In less than two minutes I'd filled up the entire page with stuff I needed to do, and I kind of wanted to cry.
    I'm glad you wrote this blog :) You give really great advice. I definitely agree that breaks are essential. You need more than just sleep to re-energize yourself; you need to relax and laugh and do fun stuff.

  4. #2 is the truth for sure. When I get stressed, I color code EVERYTHING, and surprisingly, it helps. :)

  5. Excellent, Steve! Perhaps I should apply these tips and get back to the 4 page paper I'm doing on "White Oleander" and "Virgin Suicides" ... after I make more headway on "Thursday's Child", "Surrender", and Book 1 of "The Faerie Queene". Oh, the life of an English major.

  6. I've been so stressed out in October that I made myself sick, which just totally knocked me down and made me want to not do anything, even though I have to. I have a motivation problem, which is why I'm doing NaNoWriMo, so that I can force myself into a routine kind of. I don't know if that makes sense. Anyway, I started a journal awhile ago when I was stressed, but I realized I've been neglecting it. You've inspired me to start that up again. Thanks for the tips! Although the sleep after 20 minutes thing I've been hearing for years, but it takes me about an hour to fall asleep every night, so I would be doing that every night and I'd probably never end up sleeping. Sorry, now I'm just rambling.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. I've been going through all of this stress lately. and it's been super crazy. and it kinda sounds like exactly what you're talking about. :) this is making me feel so much better, cause now I have a plan.

  8. I reeeeeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy needed this right now. Like, really, really needed it. Thank you.