As much as I cannot stand people who constantly say, “I am sOoOo busy,” I have thrived off of being busy for the last two years. I have come to the conclusion that I simply don’t enjoy relaxing in the conventional sense that most people do — I don’t really enjoy watching movies, binge-watching Netflix, or anything involving sitting for long periods of time. I believe it’s a merely social construct of the last century that the best and only way to wind down after long days is to sit in front of a screen. It may help some (but is it really…? Think about it!), but it doesn’t help me. I either fall asleep or get so antsy with myself and my mind and find other ways to stay busy to pre-occupy myself.
I have always been the honors student that works a couple side jobs and pursues my own passions as hobbies throughout high school and college. For the last 2 years of undergrad, I went into overdrive, working 2-3 jobs, taking over the maximum credit hours, and attempting to maintain somewhat of a social life. I think I was the last person at my university to purchase Netflix, and I still don’t really use it. Honestly, staying busy is a coping mechanism for me. It’s helped me through some of my darkest times, and for that, I am thankful that I have had opportunities to always find ways to stay busy and remain functional.
This summer following graduation, I took on even more responsibilities than normal. As a full-time MBA student, I also worked a full-time Marketing internship, began my CHAARG Blogi internship, worked at a fitness studio, and taught fitness classes at Loyola. Oh yeah, I also tried to go home as much as possible to visit family, tried to make lots of new friends in the city, and tried to maintain contact with friends who had left the city. Um. How?
I micromanage and I am proud, even if I shouldn’t be. I make sure I am able to do everything. From the surface level, I was thriving. My days were jam-packed and I was living life to the “fullest.” Was I happy? Not usually.
I was often overly emotional and moody, to say the least: exhausted, excited, defeated, motivated, stressed, passionate, sad, and almost always on edge. I would usually blame it on my period or PMSing, until I finally realized in August that it was nowhere near that point in my cycle. I couldn’t blame my overwhelming mood swings on fixed causes any longer, because I, in fact, was the cause.
Somehow, I’ve managed to convince people I am a relaxed, Type B kind of person. I’m so Type A that I’ve micromanaged my life to look effortless. Yeah — that bad. That being said, I knew I had to create an immediate plan of action before my stress made everything else in my life topple over. It was like a few pieces had been pulled from the Jenga I call my life. If I had a personal genie like Aladdin, he would be screaming, “Mayday — MAYDAY!” I needed an escape strategy ASAP. Whether or not my plan has succeeded is TBD, but so far, so good. In case you ever hit your own wall, here are a few ways to rescue yourself.
- Realize Your Weaknesses and Triggers
Even at my times of peak emotion, I had to learn to recognize what exactly triggered those emotions. My first thought was always if I was hangry — If I was not properly nourishing my body, I often let me emotions overwhelm me. I spent this summer trying to anti-diet as part of my eating disorder recovery. While it helped a lot, sometimes, I could tell I had too much sugar that day and it was making me irritable. It’s taken a lot of effort to banish feelings of guilt and instead instill feelings over awareness, but it has helped nonetheless.
Had I been sitting too long in my cubicle? Was I bored? I have learned this summer that 40 hours a week in a cubicle is NOT for me. If I ever ran out of tasks (quite often), then I would quickly get bored, and I would quickly feel useless. My confidence is highest when I am challenged, so I need to constantly have goals or tasks to accomplish. Knowing that being bored can make me feel helpless was important to improve my awareness of my current mindset, even if temporary. Being aware may not prevent triggers, but it can help reduce their resulting effects.
2. Recognize Areas in Your Life That Can Be Reduced (Including People)
I am the person that tries to do everything all the time. This summer helped me focus on what I was doing for me and what I was doing to try to please others. For most of my life, I have been told that I give off an impression of being selfish. As a result, I am a complete people-pleaser, which often means I can be a pushover. Especially as a young professional, I find myself constantly trying to get on everyone’s “good side” and trying to make everyone else happy. This may be okay temporarily, but not to a certain extent.
I tell my mom everything (whether she likes it or not) and she was the first to really tell me I needed to take a step back. She reminded me that as afraid I may be of upsetting others, no one really cares. In the end, everyone is selfish, and when I am struggling, I must prioritize myself so that I can actually help others. Instead of trying to maintain a million and one friendships, I stopped texting everyone to check-in with them. I stopped trying to hang out with everyone, especially when I was the only one making plans. I reminded myself who my true friends were. If you ever want to figure out who your true friends are, make a list of who your bridesmaids or groomsmen would be, and if you would be in their wedding too. If it’s mutual, then you know that that friend is worth it, but as a good friend, they would also be able to realize when you need your space too.
3. Identify Your “Highs” And Prioritize Them
Instead of fixating on the lows, prioritize your highs and what makes you happy — not what makes you content, but what makes you feel alive, energized, and ready to take on the world. Make a list (which can be a growing list) and find ways to experience your highs as often as possible. Schedule them in your planner so that you have to feel high.
What makes me happy? A fun/new/tough workout, dancing, reading, showering, laying down. Quite the extremes, eh? I’ve realized this summer that one of the only ways I force myself to actually relax is by laying out in the sun. So why can’t I do that indoors? This is when I focus on mindfulness, sometimes meditation, and usually straight up blank space in my head. Your highs can be unique to you, or they can be shared with others. As an introvert, I prefer them solo, but if you want to shower with someone else, you do you!
For me, trying new things as often as possible is so important. Whether it’s a new workout, a new book, a run in a new area, or trying a new restaurant. This prevented me from feeling like I was in a rut. I love to constantly challenge myself and continue growing, so getting out of my comfort zone is crucial to keeping me energized.
4. Communicate Your Needs
This has been the hardest part for me. Sometimes, I get in this mindset that I am way more fucked up than the rest of the world and no one will understand that I am currently struggling. I also feel like I waste people’s time when I talk in detail (if you’ve spoken with me before, you’ll know I talk extremely quickly as a result). That being said, it’s been a struggle trying to communicate my needs and emotions with others. Sometimes, this means saying to someone, “Hey, I’m sorry I have to cancel our plans but I need some me-time,” or “Being in my cubicle for too long makes me miserable so I’m going to try to take a walk once a day” or “I’m really broke and the thought of spending money gives me extreme anxiety, so I can’t hang out with you today” or even “I need help.” Often, they appreciate your honesty and will respect your wishes. If they don’t, you can delete them from your messages and throw them into the cloud of trash where they belong.
It’s also very hard to cut people out of your life. You might wonder, will I regret it? Will I hurt them? Will I need them in the future? But, if they are a toxic part of your life, you will be better without them in your life. “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who do mind don’t matter.”
Overall, the most important part of rescuing yourself from a stress overload is ensuring it doesn’t happen again in the future. Your escape strategy needs to be sustainable and become a lifestyle. Never seek a temporary solution for a permanent problem. You may try so hard to keep your life in order, but you are worth the extra effort to make yourself happy and fulfilled.