Recently, I was completing a post graduate dissertation while trying to find a job and a place to live, and it was pretty overwhelming. I have heard all kinds of advice on how to deal with stress, but a lot of it is pretty farfetched— in times like this, no one is going to make a cup of tea and sit by the fire peacefully. You might make a cup of tea, forget where you put it down and sit by the fire hyperventilating, but there will be little peace involved. Spring is often overlooked as a “busy period” because everyone is gearing up for summer. However, before you hit the beach there is often an influx of work that needs to be done.
So I thought I would give my no nonsense tips for dealing with high stress.
- Don’t forget to eat- Even if it is just a piece of fruit and a bag of chips. Drink water too. While you might feel like you don’t have time to stop and eat, don’t wait until you are on the verge of passing out to remember that humans need food. Trying to eat healthy in times of high stress is important, fruit are portable and provide enough sugar to keep you going. Even so, don’t be afraid to hit up a vending machine if you must— just eat something. You’ll feel better and so will everyone around you.
- Do at least try to sleep- You probably won’t be able to get your recommended 8 hours, but try to think about your REM cycle and how to best get at least a bit of sleep. For me, it is better to stay up late and sleep from 4-7:30/8 rather than try to get up early. It takes me so long to really “wake up” that those morning hours, and the time that I should have been working in are wasted. So know your body and try to figure out how to get the best quality if small quantity of sleep. Then, when it’s bedtime, that’s it- lay down and close your eyes— no social media, no phone.
- Say you are overwhelmed- Saying something out loud can be a powerful tool. I have a friend who doesn’t need an alarm clock- she just says the time she needs to get up out loud over and over while she is falling asleep and will amazingly wake up at that time. I’ve tried it, and it isn’t a trick that works for me, but I do find that saying something out loud can make me feel better and make me remember better for next time. Oscar Wilde said that “it is the confession not the priest that give absolution” and I think there is an element of absolution in admitting you are overwhelmed aloud. It’s ok not to be able to do everything, even if you are like me and want to do everything all to once. Admitting you are overwhelmed is one part acknowledgement, one part self forgiveness and one part remembrance (so you don’t overload yourself like this again, at least not right away).
- Find your mantra- This is a two part problem solver. First, find the saying, or a poem or what have you that you can repeat to yourself when you feel like crap. When I run, I repeat “I am an athlete. All athletes run; some run to train, some train to run, but all athletes run.” Part of this is from an old Nike campaign. Saying this quietly to myself helps me regulate my breathing and gives a little boost of confidence. The second portion is something that helps you fall asleep. Here I say, even though I am not religious, the “Hail Mary”. I feel like if Mary was real she would have to be a pretty strong woman, so she would know what’s what about being overwhelmed and getting through it. It’s also a repetitive, which helps you fall asleep. Concentrate on repeating the words over and over and you won’t have time to thing about all the stuff you “should” be doing.
- Ask for help- This is so important. Don’t feel like a failure if you can’t do everything all by yourself. If you ask, people will help you. This, of course, doesn’t mean hand off all of your responsibilities. It does mean it’s ok to ask someone to edit for you, or to ask someone to bring you a coffee. It also means saying no. Sometimes asking for help is just saying “I can’t take on anymore at this point, someone else has to do it.” It’s ok not to do everything someone asks of you. Basically, know that others can carry some of the load, if you let them know that you are getting buried under a pile of things to do. All Frodo’s need a Sam, remember.
- Create a to do list for the day- Big projects feel a lot less “big” if you break them down into smaller pieces. Once you’ve done that, don’t worry about what is on the list for tomorrow or a week from now, just do today. Another element of this is, of course, be organized. In order to do this you must know everything that you are going to need to accomplish and how much time each task will take. Figuring this out will take some time but it is well worth it. Once you’ve figured out what you have to do each day you need to actually do it. DO NOT pretend that you have more time than you do because the project is a long one- working steadily does get good results. There will be something you have forgotten or something unexpected that you will have to do at the end so don’t wait until the last minute. Easier said than done I know, but you will feel better.
- Remember why you are doing this- This is probably the most important. I even make a list sometimes of how doing this project will help me meet my goals. Remembering that this is important for you (even if indirectly) is a great motivator. When you feel like quitting, remember why you started, the saying goes. When you feel like quitting you are probably at the peak of being overwhelmed— it gets better from there so don’t give up!
So there you have it. Additionally, I would add one more, a quote from one of my favourite television characters Dr. Sidney Friedman from M*A*S*H: “You know, I told you people something a long time ago, and it’s just as pertinent today as it was then. Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice – pull down your pants and slide on the ice”. This means, in long hand, chill out. It was relevant when M*A*S*H aired in the seventies and it still holds today. Let me know what you think, or if you have any advice leave it in the comments.