Stress Tests

It’s rough out here!

Despite my best efforts to reduce my stress levels in 2017, I had a couple of really bad anxiety break-through days that turned into a few weeks. Beginning in the middle of March, and hopefully continuing no further than the end of this week, I’ve been feeling a lot of stress.

The pressure of all the things going on in my life – time pressure, performance pressure, future pressure – are taking a tole on my body. My throat has been sore for a week and a half, my sleep is disturbed, and my stomach is constantly clenched. I honestly though something was medically wrong for awhile, before I tried to consciously relax one evening, and I felt a thousand times better.

The next morning, on the way to one of the dozen things that I devote myself to, everything came roaring back. Sitting on the metro, flooded with racing thoughts, I genuinely thought to myself, “I’m having a nervous breakdown and I’m going to die.”

Luckily, I was nearing my stop, so I tried to focus on physically relaxing my stomach while I waited to be able to get off the train and get some fresh air.

Things have been stressful before – I’ve always had a ton of stuff on my plate, and have often sacrificed sleep and healthy habits in the interest of doing it all, but this feels different.

It may be that I’m more aware of my body as I’m growing older, or that I’m more aware of how much is resting on my shoulders because I’m away from the community that I grew up in, or both. It may be that I’m no longer willing to sacrifice my health for the sake of my performance, and thus I’m more aware of the negative impacts of stress when they arrive.

I’m short for time these days, and I like to use the free time that I do have on seeing friends, spending time with E, or writing for this blog. Still, I’ve had to make time for two little changes to my daily routine that are helping me make it through this last week without, you know, having a nervous breakdown and dying.

The first change is more Yoga with Adrienne. She’s an American yoga instructor who has a ton of videos in varying lengths for an free, on-demand, at-home yoga practice. I was doing yoga every morning for most of January, and I noticed a change in my physical and mental well-being. I let it fall to the wayside in February, but I’ve had to pick it up again as a means of stress survival.

Focusing on my body and my flexibility for anywhere from 8 minutes to an hour helps me to get out of my head, and lets me use my body productively, instead of letting my physiological response to stress control me.

I will admit that I did yoga while also crying a few days ago (not really a personal low, but a sad moment nonetheless) but by the time the video was over, I felt calmer both in my body and in my spirit. The crying helped, but so did the purposeful physical activity.

The second is an app called Headspace, that I heard about several months ago on one of my favourite podcasts. It’s a meditation app with ten, 10-minute meditations available for free. I’ve been using it on the metro while on the way to class, or in the evenings when I’m coming home from my internship.

It’s not exactly a groundbreaking meditation technique, but I really like the app’s daily meditation reminders and the post-meditation feelings that make even rush hour on the trains a bearable experience.

I’m ready for my exams and papers to be out of the way, so that I can have an easier time choosing myself and my health over external demands. I know I signed up for this, but the emotional and physical costs of graduate school often feel unreasonable and excessive. I love what I’m learning, but I need to give myself a break.



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