It’s been ages since I’ve posted. There are many reasons for that, but I’m going to talk about one of the most important, and contributing, factors now, and that is stress.
I admire you if you’re not stressed at university at any point; that must mean you’ve either got nerves of steel, you’re super composed, or you’re ace at managing your time. I’m not saying I don’t have time management skills (because I do), it’s just adjusting to the workload of second year is tough – almost too tough to deal with as well as finding placements etc.
What I’m going to write about today is a very sensitive and personal part of my life right now, as I haven’t been coping very well – and I’m going to admit that. Like any kind of recovery, it is the first step to making things better for yourself. Now, this isn’t just going to apply to any workaholics out there that don’t know how to turn off; it applies to every single student who is at, or wants to go to university. I’m going to outline a few things I have found to help deal with stress, as it’s bad if you let things get on top of you too much.
Okay, so, negativity over – let’s talk about how to deal with stress.
First thing’s first – stop. Now, being a self-confessed workaholic, I know for a fact that this is easier said than done, because when it is a part of you, stopping working for a minute or two seems like an impossible task. But seriously – take time for yourself. You need time in the day where you need to not do work, and actually think about something else for a while. If you feel like you’re getting to your boiling point – just put down your pen, shut your laptop lid, sit back in your chair or lay on your bed and shut your eyes for a moment. Breathe. It sounds stupid saying it, but if you’ve gotten to the level of stress that I have lately, this helps a lot – even if you’re not that stressed at all. Taking a few moments to focus on yourself when you’re surrounded by work will help you focus better, and to clear your head. If it doesn’t work – listen to your body. If you feel you can’t type another word – don’t. Go to bed, or go for lunch. Do something that isn’t work, because if you force yourself to work anyway, the result won’t be great – trust me.
It’s taken me many a time to realise that I stress myself out way too much. I found a method in first year, of visually recognising the fact I was making progress to keep my stress levels down – and it worked. What I did was have a sheet of paper tacked to my wall, with bullet points of all the things I needed to get done. Here’s a short extract from my current list:
- Write myAston Uni Life blog
- Neat notes of Software Engineering lecture
- Talk to careers centre about placement progress
- Look over functional requirements for group project
- Put DVDs on eBay
When I did something, I could cross it out, and it signified I had actually done something. When you’re stressed, it becomes hard to acknowledge your achievements or progress, and that sucks. Doing something like this will help keep you focused, and most of all, positive.
My alteration for this year is that I have a paper spike and post-stick notes. I write a post-stick note for each task I have to do and stick it on my wall. Once I’ve done it, I can stick it on my paper spike, and hey-presto, an impressive stack of tasks is there to show me that I am actually getting somewhere.
Another thing for when you’re stressed is to do something that makes you happy. Take today for instance; I went out for lunch with my friend, and my mood instantly improved, because I wasn’t thinking about my course, and I wasn’t in an environment that made me think about my course. In stressful periods, removing yourself from the place that reminds you of working can be a really good thing to help you out – I have found this so useful. Saying that, don’t then take your work to restful places, as then that will remind you of work and subsequently if you visit that place without doing work, you’ll think about it anyway and it won’t do your stress levels good. So basically – keep the places you work to just the places you work, and make sure the places for yourself stay that way too. Segregate your work and your life, and you’ll feel a lot better.
I’ve found that one of the biggest contributing factors of my stress right now, is that I had all these things that I needed to do swirling about in my head, and because I only found the time as and when to work on those things, my mind snowballed them into this massive task that I couldn’t bear thinking about anything else but. I can’t stress enough how you don’t want to end up in this situation! Seriously; jot down all the things you need to do, then sit down with your timetable. Work out where you can fit these things in, and plan for your tasks. More importantly, plan some break time! Down-time is just as valuable as work-time when you have a lot going on, as it helps you to focus, and rest too. If you’re emotionally drained from stress, you’re not going to be good to do anything, let alone producing quality work you can be proud of. Planning breaks was the hardest thing for me, because I felt guilty that I could be doing work during that time. Do yourself a favour – take a night, or even an hour off. As I’ve said – do something that makes you happy, because if you’re not happy, you’re going to keep being stressed. Go out with friends, or take a walk. Go on the internet for an hour or two. Do something.
I’ve found I was in a vicious circle. I felt stressed because I had a lot of work to do. Because I had a lot of work to do, I spent more time doing work, and not resting – so working late nights and getting up early. Because I was working more, it took longer to do things because I was exhausted. Because I was exhausted, I got stressed. I got more stressed because I still had loads of work to do… and the cycle continues. The hardest thing is breaking out of the circle, or your body forcing yourself out of the circle because you literally can’t take it anymore. Either way, once you’re out, you can work to make things better. That’s what I’m doing now. In the words of my boyfriend – when you’re stressed, “a part of it is because you’re creating deadlines that don’t exist”.
A way I’ve managed to do this (surprisingly) is by making a schedule. Yes, I’m conquering my stress by setting myself a schedule – but hear me out. Having all these things to do cooped up in my head was not a good way forward, and I was getting stressed because I couldn’t forsee them getting done. I would fit things in as and when I had time – but this also came with its issues as I had become so unfocused that this was proving to be another problem in itself. I drew out a simple grid on paper, with seven rows (one for each day), and 17 columns (roughly). The first two are the biggest in size. The first column is “Today’s goal”. This is a positive start to the day; it is for something that I want to achieve, or if it is a rest day etc. The second column is for deadlines, so anything that has to be done by that day, like coursework or personal deadlines. This gives an aim for the day, and helps to plan ahead because I know when things have to be done by. Then, I have hourly slots from 9am to 12am, to plan in what I would like to do that day. I’ve found this majorly helpful because I can see what time I have, when I can have breaks (instead of winging it, or taking a break when I’m desperate), and also to stop me working six+ hours at a time without a break. It’s taking time management to the extreme, but I need this structured approach to get me back on track and out of the hole I have been in personally. It could work for you too, or something similar. I recommend a diary of some sort, or a calendar with space to write a lot, so you can plan in things with detail for what you’d like to achieve. This helps to organise yourself, and also making you remember deadlines – my academic diary has been my saviour this year!
Wow, this post has gotten very deep quite quickly (well, I say quickly very loosely, as I’m over 1.5k words currently…).
Okay, a summary if you’ve made it this far:
- Stop, close your eyes, and breathe
- Do this immediately when you’re feeling stress; you can’t plan for this to happen, it’s your back-up when things get too much
- Recognise your achievements, and put it in a positive light
- I’ve done this through a list on my wall of things to do, that I cross off as I go along. I’ve also done this with lots of post-stick notes and a paper spike to represent finished tasks, and accomplishments.
- The most important thing to remember is you’ve made more progress than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes, you should give yourself a pat of the back for taking a break, as when you’re stressed, that can be an accomplishment in itself.
- Do something that makes you happy
- Go out for lunch, treat yourself, buy yourself a new piece of clothing, splash out on full price Ben and Jerry’s…
- Segregate your work and life
- Don’t do work where you have your leisure time, as it’ll always remind you of work. If you’re trying to unwind and destress, the last thing you want is little niggles at the back of your mind that you still haven’t finished that piece of work you started in that place…
- Plan in breaks
- You can’t work 100% all of the time. I’ve learnt this the hard way, as it’s always what I have strived to do. You’ll eventually grind to a halt. Breaks are good to focus yourself, and to clear your head, instead of getting worked up. Even though breaks are time you’re not working, and can be seen as “wastes of time” (Me, 1995-present…) – they are actually more helpful than you think.
Some other things that are useful, are to get your feelings out. Take five minutes to write down everything that’s getting you down, stressing you out, or that is on your mind. Get it out your system. If you don’t want to write it down, rant about it! I ranted to my course mate yesterday, and we found we were both in the exact same position. One thing to remember about stress and university – you are not alone! Talking to people can help, as it gets it out and you can lean on each other. Your friends are your best tool for success at university, in my opinion. Others may disagree, but I strongly believe that without all the support – emotionally and academically – from my friends, I would not be in the privileged position I am today. Alternatively, write a super long blog post about how you’re coping with it… I surprisingly feel a lot better than I did an hour ago.
This has been a very unstrucutred, whatever-comes-out-of-my-head-styled post, that turned out to be so much longer than I intended! I suppose I will write a more condensed and planned piece soon, that isn’t all over the place, but for now, I hope I have helped. If all else fails, know this: there is always a way to break out the circle. It may take a while, it may be that you find it difficult to identify that you can make things better, and not everything is as bad as it seems at first. I have certainly learnt this over the past two days. I hope in the future I can help you as much as the people in my life have at this moment in time, and throughout my time at university, because without them, I believe things could be quite different right now.
All deep-thoughts aside, I do hope I haven’t sent you to sleep with this insanely long post, and I hope it’s contained even a sliver of useful information you can take away to improve your stress.
Thanks for reading, and until next time.