So, you feel like you’re losing control hey? Those assessments are piling up, the boss just gave you a full roster, your parents expect you to get straight As… All this while you just want to enjoy the little things in life – no wonder it feels like a whirlwind. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there at some point. Although it might seem like an impossible mountain to climb right now, I promise it will get easier, and luckily there are a few ways you can both prevent and react to stressful situations.
As someone who works six casual jobs (and admittedly doesn’t accept shifts for two of them), while trying to juggle full-time university, I totally understand how things can go from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye. If there is anything 2021 taught me, it’s that I can’t pretend it isn’t hard. Too often we hope our worries will go away if we simply push them aside and fill time with other ‘stuff.’ You know – the ‘I’ll deal with that when it matters’ mind set. Yeah, well, when did that ever work out well?
So regardless of how good you are at managing your time, it's inevitable you’ll feel a bit under the weather at some point. The most important thing you can do – is listen. Listen to your body, your mind, your friends. The quicker you look after yourself, the quicker you can get right back into the things you love best.
There’s a chance you’re thinking to yourself ‘ok, but how?’ Well, I wondered the same thing – so I went looking for someone who could help me. Luckily, she wasn’t too far away.
Meet Carla. She recently finished her Undergraduate studies of Psychological Science at Bond University on the Gold Coast, and has since begun her honours. In recent years, she's volunteered in a number of capacities including group coordinating on the Gold Coast, support work, group therapy programs, facilitating programs for waitlist patients, and work at St Vincent and Pauls supporting underprivileged children. In addition, Carla has been involved in volunteer work with the Headspace Youth Advisory Council. She also happens to be one of my favourite faces to see around the uni campus. So, after a little bit of planning, we sat down with a coffee so I could ask her a few questions.
Here’s the ultimate low-down:
ONE: Stress can be a good thing.
There are two types of stress: the good and the bad. Although it sucks to be consumed by nerves brought on by piles of work, being a little bit stressed shows us that we care. Without this, we can’t be motivated. So, the next time you feel a little bit jittery going into a presentation or exam, just remind yourself it’s a sign you’ve worked hard, and use it to your advantage!
With that being said, don’t let those feelings build up too much. When things don’t seem to get better, it’s important to reach out. A lot of the time the idea of being stressed gets thrown out the window – we seem to think it’s too normal to matter. The truth is, the line between good and bad stress is super thin. Take a moment to rest up and regain some strength before your next task. The last thing we want is for that stress to turn into burnout.
TWO: When is it time to de-stress?
It sounds straight forward, yet we seem to ignore the signs all too often. We undoubtably know the physical changes that stress brings upon us, and usually we brush them aside. Sweaty palms, racing heart, upset tummy, headaches, lack of appetite, nail biting, and etc. But what are some of the emotional reactions we experience when things start building up? Let me list them out: isolation, loss of excitement, low self-esteem and lacking confidence are just some of the common signs of stress that impact us mentally. Another big one is losing interest in your hobbies and friends.
I know personally I cut off a lot of my closet contacts simply because it seemed so overwhelming with everything else happening around me.
When I spoke to Carla, two things from this part of the conversation piqued my interest. The first was that gaining self-esteem helped her to start setting goals, while finding the enjoyment in her studies. The second was that all of the above signs point to one thing: you need a break. It doesn’t have to be a week off; it could simply be 5min.
THREE: Practice self-care.
It’s definitely a term that gets thrown around, and we all have different ideas of what it means and how we can use it in our lives. I will admit, everyone will have a unique way of practicing self-care, and that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s the only way it should be! Not one of us is the same, so there’s honestly no surprise that we respond differently to stress and thus use different coping techniques. Some of us might have our routines set – congrats on that by the way! But for those of us who are still learning the ropes, here’s a few ideas that might be just what you need:
- Read a book (novel, comic, inspiration, anything!)
- Start doodling
- Try a new craft
- Learn an instrument that has been laying around the house for years
- Give meditation or mindfulness a go – there are countless apps such as smiling minds that can help get you started
- Exercise – make sure it’s something you look forward to (not just another chore on the weekly planner)
- Walk between classes
- Ride your bike/ walk to your destination if possible
Even if you only do one of these things for 10min a day, that’s 70min across the week. For such a small amount of time, you’ll gain so much mentally and physically to help you with the tasks at hand.
Remember, your stress will not magically disappear after one meditation session – these things do take time. It’s crucial to keep in mind what the bigger picture is. Make sure you check in with yourself daily and ask yourself how it’s going. Potentially, ask a friend to also check in and keep you accountable. Sometimes we convince ourselves it won’t make a difference to skip a routine just once, but that once might turn into twice, and then into 10 times. Finding a routine you can stick to is always going to be the hardest part – but once you have your ways, it will get easier. As Carla says, it’s understandable that uni students might not want to read a book as part of self-care if they’ve had to read lecture notes all day. Whatever you choose, make sure you enjoy the activity. After all, it always comes down to balance!
FOUR: Be proactive over reactive!
This is a long one.
You probably hear this term a lot, and for whole heap of different reasons. But what does it mean when talking about our mental health and combatting stress? As Carla explained, it’s way more important than we think. Essentially, being proactive means taking control of our mental, psychological and physical health even before we feel tensons rising. By doing this, we can eliminate the potential for those stressful moments (big or small) to creep up without warning.
First up, no matter how small our objectives are, it’s crucial we have a purpose for doing them. Studying – why? What about your degree is so inspiring to you? Why that specific course over the hundreds of others on offer? Starting a new job – what makes you so determined to do well? What do you want from this particular role? At the end of the day, we need to know what we will ‘get’ from our ‘give.’ Without that, it’s much easier to lose track of hopes and goals, no matter how strong we think they are to begin with. Once you know what that purpose is, start reminding yourself every morning as part of your routine. If you have a vision board – or whiteboard – at your desk, write a little note to yourself so you’ll see it each day. And don’t just look at it, say it to yourself even on the hardest days. It might seem stupid, but I promise it will help you keep on track with being the person you want to be.
A key tip Carla shared with me for holding sight of a long-term goal, is to set small ones which act as steppingstones. Say you desperately want to be a doctor, but seven years seems so far away and unreachable. Set mini goals which will lead to that dream. It can be something as small as simply passing your first exams without worrying about whether it’s a 50%, 52%, or 99%. The next goal could be to turn your weakest subject into your strongest, really aim to improve an area that you feel is bringing you down. Whatever it might be, make sure it’s reasonable, and ensure it will help you get to that end-of-the-day goal.
Now, back to this idea of a ‘routine’ I keep mentioning. Think for a moment what your typical morning looks like. Do you wake up and make the bed? Do you take any medications or have a go-to smoothie to get yourself started? Being honest, is your routine effective? And I mean, is it really doing anything for you? One concept which kept coming into conversation with Carla, was the importance of having a clear routine for your day. As she pointed out, this doesn’t mean you should avoid spontaneity at all costs. Rather, start putting together a routine which is easy to follow and will get you in the ‘good vibes’ for your day (and week). For example, Sunday afternoon might be your meal prep time – getting dinners for the week cooked and packaged to save time and money on busy evenings. Monday to Friday mornings might include a five-minute breathing exercise, a glass of cold water, and 30 minutes of journaling or to-do list writing. Your routines should essentially be how you deal with the things you do have control of, in order to minimise the stress of things you can’t control. An on-the-go routine might be listening to affirmations or your favourite podcast – something that can be done while multitasking. A good idea which Carla mentioned, is doing these routines before checking social media.
If you feel like keeping a consistent routine might be difficult, see if a friend or family member wants to join you. Is there someone who can listen to the same podcast as you? Someone who is able to help keep you accountable for drinking that glass of water.
Out of all of this however, it’s crucial to remember one thing: friends are friends.
If you feel as though things are getting just a bit too hard, seek professional help. As we know, there’s still an incredible amount of stigma associated with therapy. But in reality, getting help for your mental health is the most courageous thing you can do. You don’t need to wait until ‘it’s bad enough’ to ask for guidance. That is part of being proactive – looking after yourself before it piles up.
FIVE: Your stress is as unique as your DNA.
Keep in mind, everyone will experience stress in different forms, at different times, and for different reasons. Do not compare your experiences with those of others – we never know how someone feels inside, just like they will never know how we feel. So, two things: it’s not a competition. Invalidating someone else’s struggles because they seem ‘less difficult’ won’t make yours go away. Vice versa, sitting in your feelings with the belief you aren’t ‘stressed enough’ is just as bad. Ensure you don’t let external forces dictate how you deal with your stress. Your past will influence how you react now, and those actions will impact how you respond in the future. The best thing you can do for yourself and others, is to take control of your health.
You can never be the ‘best’ version of yourself because no matter how much you change, so will your ideals of being perfect. Instead aim to be the ‘happiest’ version of yourself, moment by moment, day by day.
Below are a few links to websites which can give you some additional insights into mental health. If you, or anyone you know is struggling, please reach out.
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Lifeline: 13 11 14