Managing stress, managing expectations

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Photo by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash

Being in the middle of the oh-so exciting/stressful/terrifying process of job applications, my CV and I are becoming very well acquainted. Too well acquainted. I’ve begun seeing lists of skills in my dreams, and ill-formatted pages in my nightmares.

Looking over my lists of activities, volunteer experiences, and other commitments, I hear myself echo the phrase I’ve so often had directed at me – how the hell did I manage all of that?

I’m not good at sitting still. At any point in my life, some part of my body will be moving, tapping, twitching. I get bored easily. So I’ve managed to rack up a decent amount of responsibilities and activities in my 22 short years on this Earth.

Looking back, I do wonder how I managed to make my way through the world of uni, work, clubs, dissertations and events, while still maintaining somewhat of a social life. (the real key is in the word “somewhat”…).

So I figured I’d put together a list of ways I’ve avoided a complete mental breakdown (by the skin of my teeth), and minimal casualties on my not-so-positive days (as a consummate pessimist, some days turns into most days in times of stress…).

The usual disclaimers apply. I’m no expert. But I’ve picked up a few things along the way which may help anyone who is drowning in different responsibilities and has no idea where to start.

Write it out: 

How many times have you email about an appointment/meeting/test that you’ve missed, that you don’t even remember booking? Once? Twice? Too many to count?

My memory is truly awful – I blame 4+ years of university shoving information I’ll never need again for my lack of brain space. So my number one most important thing is writing down whenever I make any kind of booking. As soon as I book the appointment, get the meeting email, etc. I write it down in my bullet journal. That way, I have all my appointments in one place and I know exactly what my day involves.

I also keep a running to-do list in my bullet journal, that covers everything I need to do for the week. This is open in front of me all day, along with my daily events. This is honestly the main thing that keeps me going day-to-day.

Routine:

I know it’s super easy to treat Uni like it’s flexible. You technically don’t HAVE to go to class. You don’t HAVE to submit assignments. But, unless you somehow have a free fountain of money streaming into your education, and feel like wasting the next 10 years of your life repeating classes – you probably should.

I can probably count the number of classes I’ve skipped on one hand. Not because I’ve never been tempted, because believe me, I sure as hell don’t want to be sitting at my desk on a beautiful sunny day. I’ve definitely skipped out to go to the beach before. But I never made a habit of it, because I knew it’d become just that – a habit. Once it becomes normalized, it’s so much easier to stop caring.

Now that I’m on a more flexible schedule, I’ve done what I can to make my day more structured. I treat my Masters like a 9-5. I come to Uni at around 8 everyday, and I leave at around 5 everyday. I break for lunch at around 12. My routine is keeping me on track, and that makes my time feel so much more precious. When I’m at Uni, I work on my Masters, and tutoring when I have contact hours. Marking, job applications, writing, chores, etc. I leave until after 5. That means I leave my work at the door when I get home, and can switch my brain off to some extent.

Never hit snooze: 

This one is similar to the above. And one that I’m honestly not that great at sticking to. Scientific opinion tends to believe that hitting snooze and letting yourself fall back to sleep is going to make you feel worse throughout the day – and I definitely can relate to this one. In winter, when it’s dark outside and your bed is so warm, the motivation to get up just isn’t there.

When I do succeed though, I feel so much better for it. The mornings when I get up, go for a run or hit the gym, then head into uni, are the days when I don’t flag out at 3pm. When I ditch the caffeine from coffee and stick to water and green tea (God, I sound like a wanker) instead, that tiredness headache that appears in the afternoon is gone.

Positive affirmation: 

Finally, I try to look over what I’ve achieved every day on a positive note. When I have days where I feel like I’ve wasted my time, messed around and not really achieved anything, it can be so disheartening. I’m very naturally pessimistic, so it can be easy to lose myself in a rut of self-blaming, saying I wasn’t good enough, and looking at all the bad things about the day.

I find that when I try to turn this mindset around, it’s so hard because it’s so ingrained in me. To combat that, I try and put a positive spin on what I’ve achieved. So if I majorly stressed out that day and had to leave the office and escape to the park for an hour, I’ll say that I spent time working on my mental health. If I didn’t get any master’s work done, but I wrote a blog post and applied for a job (AKA today), then I’ll focus on those things that I did do. Sometimes it can surprise you how much you actually have done in the day, that you don’t necessarily count as being productive.

Switching that view from negative to positive is not easy AT ALL, but it effects my mood to a crazy extent. I know ‘mindfulness’ is such a buzzword lately (and I honestly couldn’t even really tell you what it’s supposed to mean), but for me, that;’s how I practice being mindful. Being aware of what makes me feel lazy, or sad, or unproductive, and seeing how I can switch that out for better behaviors.

So, these are just some methods I use to keep my life on track and ugly-cry free. I’d love to hear what methods you use to organise multiple competing responsibilities?!

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