10 February 2013

Issues: Being Stressed Out (In College and Everywhere Else)

     Hi!!!!!  Sorry (I'm not really apologizing to just my readers, but to myself as well) I haven't been posting anything.  I haven't been in the mood since school started.  I haven't been in the mood for anything, really.  I've sort of been a zombie the last few weeks.  I am a part-time college senior at the moment, so I should have a lot of free time, right???  Well, yes I do, but I am kind of stressed out because it's my last semester as an undergrad and now the pressure is on to not screw anything up.

     A lot is on the line.  Graduating and earning a bachelor's degree is one thing, but the fear of the unknown life waiting after graduation has been enough to cause me to lose sleep.  I applied to grad school, for Ph.D. programs in Biology.  Hell yes I want to be accepted to my #1 choice school!  I daydream endlessly about moving out of my beloved childhood home (I commuted to undergrad all four years. It saved money and I'm not complaining, but it's time to change!) and into an apartment all my own in an area that I have been in love with since my first visit as a child.  But I also have to prepare for deviations, such as being turned down (read: rejected) by my top choices, or even being turned down by everywhere I applied to.

     Some of my friends aren't applying to graduate school, and the pressure is on them to go find a job.  Something they may or may not do for the rest of forever...  Our parents are telling us to make use of our expensive degrees and go be something.  Not all of us are born knowing what we want to do.  Oftentimes our ambitions change as we grow and become exposed to more of the world.  Personally, I wanted to be a doctor all my life until I hit sophomore year in college and I realized I'm too squeamish for cadavers (you know, those dead people they cut open for educational purposes) and that I would much prefer working in a lab, hence the Ph.D. dreams.  Nonetheless, we are all being pressured.  My mom and dad would simply say, "hey, get used to it, you're going to be pressured all your life".  Sigh.

     I haven't thought of any backup plans (shaaaaaame on me) as to what I will do if I don't get into a single graduate program.  Should I apply the following year?  Retake the GRE?  Go job hunting?  Cry endlessly in bed all day so I can drown in my sorrow?

     That last option isn't going to happen to me.  And, my dear friends (fellow undergrads or not), I don't want it to happen to you, either.  We are all above self-loathing and self-pity.  We can't just sit around all day and mope.  It won't help us lower our stress levels.  Let me tell you what happens when I get stressed out.  It's not pretty.  My hair starts falling out, my acne acts up, I gain weight, I snap at everyone around me because I'm always on edge.  And I don't sleep well.  Some or all of this may even happen to you.  It's normal.  Go ahead, wallow a little bit in it.  Acknowledging your feelings is a good thing. But as soon as you start feeling so bad that every minute of your life feels like crap, stop.

     Yeah, yeah, easier said than done.  But that's everything.  Look at it this way, if you don't calm the hell down, you can't tackle your stress/fears/tasks.  If you aren't 100% there for yourself, who else will be?  I know I'm supposed to be YourAwesomeBFF, but I can only provide help.  I can't calm your nerves for you.  You have to take charge of yourself and make the effort to de-stress.  I do, however, have another list.  These are just some things that I have been trying to do lately to take the edge off.  Stress isn't ever going to go away completely, but you can try to curb some of it:

How to Manage Your Stress

  1. Acknowledge that you are stressed.  I have blamed other people and situations far too many times.  When I get stressed out, everything around me seems far more annoying or worse than what actually is.  Accept that it is you that is feeling crummy.  Apologize to others that you may have hurt because you're feeling down, especially if those others are the ones that didn't cause your stress in the first place. And P.S.-Easy on the road rage.  Don't go driving like an angry maniac just because you're stressing.  It could get you and the people around you in a lot of trouble.  So cool it.
  2. Keep busy.  It's possible that you're stressed because you're busy, but what I meant to say is have a schedule.  If you have a lot on your plate, organize your tasks on a list or calender of some sort.  You'll feel a lot better if you get things done on time and in an orderly fashion.  Plus, the satisfaction of crossing tasks off the list is just amazing.
  3. Keep busy #2.  For people like me with light schedules, having nothing to do is the worst.  When I'm not busy, I sit and think about everything wrong with my life, which just perpetuates sadness.  Instead, I: do household chores (i.e. dishes), watch some TV, crochet, talk to someone.  Anything to deviate from excessive thinking.
  4. Find a hobby!  Something that is all about you.  I mean, you are on the internet.  Go search something up; there isn't anything you can't learn how to do.  You might even find something that you're passionate about!  Doing at least one thing that is just for fun is enough to help you feel like your life is about something other than some daily grind.
  5. Exercise.  Don't go getting some gym membership (unless you really want one).  A simple walk around the block can help.  Even pacing in your own home or doing some cardio and stretching can really help.  Devote at least 20 minutes.  It won't take away from your busy life, but it will add to it by making you more functional.  But it will help you recharge and feel better once you get the blood flowing.  Even lazy, unathletic bums like myself can get up and move around.  Or hey, get up and dance!  Even if you look like a fool.  This is about your health, not your looks.
  6. Don't stop at dreaming.  You want something?  Well, you're not going to get it by just picturing it.  There's no such thing as some magical genie that will give you what you want.  Make plans.  Being ambitious only gets you so far if you can't make moves towards those goals.
     There you have it, guys.  This is a stressful world we live in, and chances are we'll never be completely satisfied with everything.  The least we can do is try to make things better for ourselves, right?  I hope this advice helps anyone that is stressing over careers, school, work, family, or a combination of any of those.  Be happy, healthy, and safe, everyone!

Happy trails,


(Note:  I feel like I have to say this.  I'm not a professional therapist or life coach or fitness instructor or anything certified.  I'm just a college kid putting things out there.  If you have any doubts about whether you're healthy enough to exercise or how to go about it, please talk to your trusted doctor.  And lastly, don't go attaining your goals and managing your stress at the expense of others.  Make sure whatever you're aiming towards is safe and legal.  No seriously, please.  Look out for yourselves and each other!  Don't say I didn't warn you to be good!  I totally did.)

20 January 2013

Issues: How to Help a Friend Who Is Having a Crisis

A Friend In Need
     I was sitting in class at 9am last spring waiting for it to start when my phone started to ring.  See, this is an anomaly all on its own just because a) I don't have many friends b) none of my friends are up at 9am unless they have somewhere to be.  I walked out of the room to take the call.  My best friend Z was stifling her tears and in her garbled speech told me that her Grandpa passed away suddenly and requested that I come over after class.  I told her I would, but honestly, I had no idea if I wanted to.  I'm very awkward when it comes to grief.  I've known Z for about eight years and I didn't even know that she was so close to her Grandpa.  She is not a dramatic girl and I only ever see her sad when she really feel it.

     I knew I couldn't be good enough of a rock on my own.  I called my other best friend M and told her what happened.  She said that she would stop by and that we should bring Z some treats.  I sat through class  but my mind was not there.  I felt sad for Z but the selfish side of me wanted skip out on seeing her.  I just didn't know what to do or say, but then it hit me.  You don't need to do or say anything.  Yes, it's awkward and painful to see a loved one in pain.  But you need to suck it up and be comforting because at the moment, your problems are not significant.  My best friend's feelings took over my own and I drove to a nearby grocery store to pick up some cookies and a small serving of ice cream for Z's sister and made my way to her house.

     Z and I wrapped ourselves in a hug and I let her cry her little heart out and cuddle up next to me.  Physical contact is highly underrated and a simple hug can help a person feel better.  Even if you aren't a touchy person, try to muster up a hug.  We chatted about how it happened and then, suddenly, we didn't.  We talked about everything under the sun, except what happened.  I let her lead the conversation wherever she wanted it to go, and although she didn't exactly feel happy again (why would I expect her to?), she was talking and not crying anymore.  M showed up and brought pizza and we made a little party out of this.

     Sadness brought us together.  Z, M, and I have been friends since high school but college had us treading new paths.  It took a period of weakness to reinforce our friendship.  I am thankful that I could have been there physically and emotionally because I learned a lot about how to be there for someone.

How to Help a Friend

     Death.  Divorce.  Break-ups.  Finances.  School.  Family.  Friends.  Arguments.  These are just some of the things that can cause a crisis.  Depending on the type of friend you have, he or she may not explicitly ask you for consolation or help.  This does not give you a ticket to bail on your friend and ignore the matters at hand.  I'm going to attempt to help you help someone else.  Keep in mind these are just guidelines.  You know your friend best.

  1. Don't pry.  Now just because you should be there doesn't mean you should be a pest.  Ask how your friend is doing and feeling.  Be a good listener.  They don't want to talk about it?  Okay.  That is okay.  Now leave it be.  But please, be sensitive.
  2. Let them lead.  Not everyone actively leads conversations or activities.  Try to put the focus on your dear buddy.  Let them dictate what you do when you hang out and don't complain or agitate them if you are bored.  Gently goad your friend towards conversation and/or their more normal behavior.
  3. Listen.  Ranting helps a lot of us get matters off our mind.  Let your friend cry if they need to.  Just don't be rude and interrupt.  If you must leave, offer to meet up again or communicate other ways.
  4. Know some signs.  Deviations from your loved one's normal behavior are likely to be apparent.  They may hit a low or they may hit a manic high where they exaggerate their usual behaviors.  Steer events back to normal.  Make a joke, play a game, go for a walk.  Keeping the mind busy helps an individual focus less on pain.
  5. Give advice only when it is asked for.  People typically don't want to listen to what you think is sage advice when they don't care for it.  Speak your peace only when your friend alludes to wanting some advice or outright asks you for it.
  6. Protect your friend.  Your friend may "crack", or suddenly grieve.  If you don't feel that you have anything helpful to say, just listen.  Let your friend let their feelings out.  Make sure they don't do anything dangerous.  Everybody reacts to situations differently and if you truly love your friend...
  7. Ask for help if you need it.  Sometimes you can do everything you can and it still won't be enough.  It's okay to consult someone else if matters get out of hand.  While I understand that some matters are secrets, it's up to you to decide what secrets are worth keeping.
     Sometimes you can't physically be there.  And I understand, we all have our own lives to deal with and that may mean living far away from your loved ones.  Phone, Skype, GChat, e-mail.  Technology can connect us all.  Part of being a friend is handling the bad moments as much as enjoying the good ones.

     If you made it this far down my post, congratulations!  You must be such a good friend looking for how to be helpful.  Now go, help your buddy out of their slump!!!  Life is too short to grieve, and if you can help someone out of their sadness, more power to you.

     I hope you all enjoyed this type of post.  Please let me know if things just got too serious or if you like to tackle issues like this.  A lot of people are awkward (me included) when it comes to helping a friend overcome sadness.  The least you can do is try, and maybe that small effort will make a big difference.

Happy trails,