Stress is a powerful thing. It can quite literally ruin our lives. Every part of us is affected when we go under intense levels of stress. We see it in our skin, in our sleep, in our digestion, our menstrual cycles, and our overall emotional state. Knowing that stress is bad for us seems to do nothing to stop us from stressing. In modern society, it seems as though no matter how much you are doing, it is never enough. There’s always someone taking harder classes, someone working more hours, someone with a more successful side project, someone in a happier relationship. Do we ever win?
This semester’s highlight reel, in true, flickering, black and white 1950’s style, is of me teetering on a wire – forever barely catching myself from falling to a precarious death on either side of me. You can see the shock – the drama, as I barely pull myself back from the pool of shark-infested waters (midterm season), the teeth-chattering nerves as I pass through a pit of fire (roommate difficulties), and the inevitable prostrated defeat as I am finally pulled off this heinous wire, emotionally drained and burnt out.
I am tired. I am tired of feeling a constant edge on everything I say and do. Tired of always being onto the next thing as soon as I’ve checked off a task. I will always be a to-do list kind of girl, organization runs in my veins (don’t mistake that red stuff for blood). However, that doesn’t mean I have to be a slave to my to-do list.
It’s time to make some changes in my life, in order to give myself back some peace of mind.
“Item #56 on the To Do List: Relax”
My first instinct was to make a checklist (I’m CRAZY) of all the things I need to do in order to lower my stress. Surely, another list of self-imposed obligations will make me feel better. I started methodically planning a new morning routine to hold myself to, a schedule for assured relaxation time, and a myriad of other “type-A,” unrealistic schemes that are all supposed to de-stress me – in an organized fashion.
I’m sure you can see the problem here.
Real life – all the emotions we have, relationships with actual people, time spent experiencing and enjoying things; doesn’t work on a clock. You can’t force relaxation time. If anything, I will end up inducing more stress because I haven’t completed my de-stressing checklist. Oh, the irony.
The Root Cause
Since a systematic approach to relaxation would not work, I had to find a new way to keep my stress levels in check. I sat down to accomplish a few things:
- Consider what were the underlying causes of my stress (beyond the fact that I have homework to complete or a big exam to study for)
- Figure out actions I take that are a result of the underlying causes of my stress
- Come up with a few options for solutions in response to these actions
I found a way to include my systematic approach after all 🙂
It quickly became clear that while the external expectations placed on me were inducing stress to a degree, it was my internal expectations that were driving me to push myself to the edge.
I constantly felt as though nothing I did was enough. I could be doing so much, and there would still be someone doing more. As I assessed all the things I pushed myself to do, I realized that many of them were not things I wanted. They were things I did because I felt I should. It’s what I’d heard I should probably get involved with on campus. But I should have known better.
As someone who calls herself independent and a free-thinker, uninfluenced by others, I had really let myself fall into the trap of following the crowd. No matter what I do in life, I can’t allow myself to lose my inner connection.
So, my first step to less stress was cutting out all the activities that weren’t serving me. Unless they make me happy at least most of the time, I shouldn’t do them. If they don’t feel important, cut them out. If I dread them and anything to do with them, say bye-bye.
Next, I had to start being better about my self care. I had to keep my inner self in good shape, and have some regular discourse with her. Some of my favorite self-care techniques are journaling, yoga/meditation, pleasure reading, and quality, disconnected time with loved ones.
I made a promise to start being truer to myself, and instead of forcing guidelines and to-do lists on myself, to simply start evaluating my actions more carefully. I’d have to start asking myself more questions like:
- Are you in the right head space to work on this right now?
- Have you had a moment to disconnect today?
- Have you moved your body today?
- How do you make this your own? What method is most you?
Through analyzing my patterns and behavior I’ve learned that I often waste a lot of time trying to work on something in a way that doesn’t fit my methods best, or at a time that isn’t optimal for me. Most of us do. If I’m working productively every time I sit down to work, it’s going to cut down my time spent working. More free time = happy Lora.
With that newly found free time, I can take a few steps towards getting back into some healthy habits.
Our bodies respond profoundly to stress, which is why it is SO important to keep ourselves happy and healthy. In severe cases, stress can have lasting impacts on us. Take a little extra time to care for yourself today.