I have a very particular response to stress and anxiety that I’m unpacking these days.
Anxiety and high-functioning tendencies go hand in hand for me, but when things get really tough I can find it hard to redirect myself back toward the initially stress-inducing problem at hand.
Take my current pre-occupation for ethical, organically produced clothing, for example. I’ve been casually obsessed with this project for the past few months, that is, spending my metro rides reading books and going out on the weekends to window-lick at the eco-stockists in Paris. Still, I’ve had a lot on my plate, and for most of January and February, I was rocking along without a ton of emotional upheaval.
Still, February was an intense month – 3 countries, 2 exams, 1 new leadership role, and a ridiculous amount of paperwork and the odd stomach flu, and I think it tripped me up before I realised I had fallen. After a quick trip to New Orleans at the end of the month, I landed in France a few days ago, utterly jet-lagged and well into March.
March!! A quarter of this magical, transformative year has already passed and I’ve accomplished so much, but there’s still so much more to do.
The February rollercoaster, coupled with the feeling that I’d already lost half of March, led me to the darker side of my passion project. Instead of balancing my research on ethical and organic products, I careened down the rabbit hole and found myself neck deep in literature on organic skincare and makeup. After two days of obsessive reading, I had so many tabs open that the scroll bar had appeared at the top of my browser. Not cool!
The spell broke around lunchtime today. I spent my hour eating at my desk, still reading, but lucky for me, I had an atelier observation to attend. I’ll be holding my own ateliers in June, and these observations are critical to getting my bearings, which helped me focus as I paid careful attention to the content and to navigating some very new French vocabulary. In the midst of this focus, it hit me.
This is clearly what I need to be spending my time on – new French vocabulary, improving my French literacy, dusting off my 12 years of Spanish, writing cover letters, organising my ateliers, studying for exams, practicing, practicing, practicing!
So why could I acknowledge this list of really cool, really important things that I need to do, but not actually focus on doing them? I journaled on that for a bit, and it became pretty clear to me that when I felt my anxiety spike, I opened a new tab or clicked another link. It was almost automatic, and it reminded me of the loop that people tend to fall into when it comes to their phones or social media – check texts, check emails, check Facebook, back to texts, emails, Facebook, etc.
I was so proud of defeating this loop but I didn’t realise that I had recreated it with my to-do lists and online searches. Check to-do list, freak out, write an email, read an article, explore a product, check my to-do list, freak out, repeat…
The fact is, while I want to pursue an organic and sustainable lifestyle, which includes my skincare and makeup routine, I don’t need many products right now. I’m not buying much of anything these days, so while it’s great to feel informed, I have much bigger fish to fry.
It is nice to have a distraction from the anxiety of working on a thesis, from the anxiety of bi-lingual job searching. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a distraction from how terrifying it can be to put yourself out there when your future feels like it’s on the line. Still, I need to accept that I’m walking into a period that may involve a lot of falling down and getting back up.
Instead of trying to managing stress with research, I’m working on ways to snap myself out of the cycle and develop productive ways to reduce my anxiety without getting off track for hours at a time.