These past few years have been a whirlwind. *whirring sound* I know this experience is not unique to me – everyone is busy. For background, the past two years I have been a full-time graduate student, engaged then a newlywed, and working full-time with a new position as an Instructional Specialist. I have had many life transitions and cognitive challenges to balance throughout these three roles. On top of it all, we bought a house and a car in the past 6 months. Here are the tools and methods I used to get me this far without a visit to a psych ward.
I share a calendar with my spouse and invite others to events. This allows me to rely on my calendar instead of my memory. This is a method of working smarter, not harder.
Oh, my brother wants to have dinner this month? I’ll schedule that today for 3 weeks out so then it’s in both of our calendars and it will be an exciting surprise in 3 weeks.
The downside of being so scheduled is then I don’t have a lot of time to be spontaneous or available to friends who are less scheduled or last minute plan-makers. Luckily, most of my friends are either busy too or know I am busy and have (hopefully) forgiven me for my absences in the last few years.
Yes. I meditate at work, at home, on planes, in parks, during meetings, and washing dishes. Really, I call it mindfulness. This is the practice of pulling myself back into the present from a place of stress, worry, or anxiety. We all have worries, especially when we have 20 projects and events to coordinate. No matter how small the tasks, they always pile on top of each other and become a larger mound of “stuff to do”.
The downside of meditation is the mind. Sometimes my mind is racing so hard and so fast I cannot catch it, which leads to frustration and more stress. This is never productive when I need to just get stuff done.
Science says exercise can be effective in reducing stress and anxiety. I agree. I feel exercising keeps me sane and grounded. There is nothing like getting on a cardio machine worrying about writing a blog post (#someta) and five minutes later simply being thankful I can breathe.
When I am most stressed or “anxious” about work or school usually coincides with weeks when I haven’t exercised in 4-5 days. This is when I prioritize exercising over everything else. It’s a return back to focusing on my health over my work and it is fail proof in reducing my stress.
The downside to exercise is if I really cannot fit it into my schedule when I know I need it the most. This usually happens on weeks when work is busy, I have a school project due, and there is a holiday or event on the horizon. This happened often about 3 months before our wedding last July. I found myself parking in the back corners of parking lots just to get a speed walk in to the dress shop.
So, by now, you have likely noticed I have anxiety (just like 18.1% of Americans). Often, my anxiety focuses on things that don’t truly matter in the moment. For example, I may be endlessly worried about traffic headed home when in reality I have nowhere to be at a certain time and the true issue is that I really just need to eat something (#hanxious). I know, I’m not crazy. You have experienced this, too.
When I am mentally healthy is when I work and function best. Journaling allows me to put my mental well-being in check. Journaling is the best way for me to “vent” something that is ridiculous or organize my life by priority. I have two types of journals:
- Personal – This journal follows two rules. 1) You get one page, Sophia. 2) End with something positive or self-encouraging.
- Bullet – This journal follows the idea of Bullet Journaling. I have a 6-month calendar, a monthly calendar, and daily task and note lists. There is a key to indicate what type of information is written. I carry this thing around with me everywhere. It houses personal, school, and work tasks. It is helpful to have it all in one place in order to plan my full day, week, and month. If I need to check on something in two Mondays, I write this task down for the page that tasks for two Mondays out. It’s quite nice and I feel more organized. Another way I work smarter, not harder.
My favorite journals right now are Studio Oh! (https://www.studiooh.com/journals-notebooks) journals and notebooks. They’re nice paper, about 100-200 sheets per journal and come in different sizes. I like the Coptic-bound journals.
Self-Compassion and Forgiveness
Alright, so here is the really juicy, personal stuff. I am my own toughest critic. It is helpful to practice self-compassion, especially when I cannot give 100% to everything. Included in this self-compassion is forgiving others and myself for shortcomings. It is really okay that I did not reply to a classmate’s message. It’s also okay that someone else made some horrific spelling mistakes in an email to a seemingly important person. All can be forgiven, and when it is, I feel light and free.
I think my main method of success in the last few years is encouragement from my spouse, family, and close friends. If anyone can convince me I am doing a good job, it is them. And this belief that I can succeed is foundational to remaining positive and confident.
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