Coping with Stress

Since this month’s habit change is about acceptance, I’ll just say this outright: I am completely overwhelmed by this semester. I love being a teaching assistant, I enjoy being a research assistant, and  I like all of the classes I’m taking. And I’m overjoyed to be working on a project of my own, and I’m excited to be volunteering for things within this really cool community of scholars that I get to be a part of. And it’s way too much. I vacillate between trying to work a 20 hour day (impossible) and doing the thing where I get overwhelmed and can’t get off the couch, and find myself pressing “next episode” on Netflix even though it’s after my bedtime (trashy TV is where I turn when I need to stop thinking. Yes, I do mean Grey’s Anatomy. You thought this was one of those minimalist blogs where we don’t even own a TV? No, sir. We might not have access to TV in the traditional sense, but we’ve got a Netflix streaming account and we are not afraid to use it).

I should probably be doing yoga, or making crafts, or doing something healthy to manage my stress, but instead I have a variety of bad coping mechanisms that I constantly fall back on. I actually get annoyed at all of the blogs that talk about aromatherapy and tea and self care, because in the midst of midterms, that feels a bit patronizing. I have found that in the midst of stress, there is exactly one thing that helps me cope: I talk to my husband. I tell him what’s bothering me (a stats test, at the moment – right now the very words “linear regression” set off a mild panic attack within me). And he listens, and he puts his arms around me, and somehow I know that even if I do fail my stats test, the world will go on, because he will still be here. And that is what matters.

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Actually, this also helps: our cats like to sit on me. They're like teddy bears with a heart beat (Fat George especially). Right now all three are with me on the sofa, and I do find them very comforting. Pets are another form of social connection and love.

This is what I have learned about stress: if you are feeling overwhelmed, watch some bad TV if you need to. Tea is not going to stop the panic from washing over you, although it can be very comforting. Stick to a routine as much as you can, where you keep eating and sleeping and showering and maintain a reasonably clean living environment, because otherwise you’ll start to feel unglued (trust me). No matter how much work you have to do, neglecting the basics will come back to bite you. Do not give up. Ultimately, you’re going to have to say it out loud: I feel overwhelmed. Call a friend (our wonderful friend Amanda, who lives thousands of miles away, is the person who can make me feel alright over the phone. She has this magically reassuring quality). Call your mother (mine makes me laugh, which works very well), or your grandma (I have a very calm, very sweet, tough-as-nails grandma). Talk to someone. It’s not about advice so much as the comfort of connection – there is nothing so reassuring as knowing that you are loved.

This morning, as I sat here working on my stats test writing a blog entry, I told my husband how I was feeling. And instead of placating me or giving advice, he went and got me breakfast from the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, and told me that he loves me. Which gave me the courage to keep trying, to read more of my R Companion to Applied Regression book instead of returning to the saga of Derek and Meredith on Netflix (I can’t tell if I actually like the show or if it’s just the one thing that helps me shut out the panic). There are two more months to this semester. When I called her, Amanda asked me what I’m going to do to make it through to late April. And I said “I’m going to keep plugging away, because I have to. And I’m going to remember to be grateful for my husband! I think that with J, I can make it through anything.”

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In times of trouble, we lean on each other. Also at other times, for our own entertainment, as on this day at the beach when we found an amazing tree and felt the need to take a silly picture!

We humans are social creatures. It is together, through our connections to one another, that we make it through this life.

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