Dealing with Stress

 

I'm in my last year of high school which means exams are just around the corner. I'm sure most of my fellow classmates are feeling the pressure of succeeding as they study. This time of year can be stressful for everyone, especially when summer is in full swing. While some are lucky enough to relax and vacation all summer, some are busier than ever, trying to balance a busy work schedule with family, friends, and personal interests. I feel like people get stressed very easily these days which doesn't have to happen. 

Throughout my high school years, I have figured out how to let things roll off my back. I don't get stressed out as easily and when I do, I take the necessary steps to deal with those feelings of panic and anxiety. So without further ado, here are my tips to dealing with stress.

Step 1: Organize Your Thoughts

What does it look like when I'm stressed? A lot of thoughts running through my head, bouncing off the walls and crashing into other thoughts. It looks like me not being able to focus on the thing I'm doing because I'm constantly trying to figure out when I'll have time to do everything that needs to be done. For me personally, it really helps me to get my thoughts down on paper. I write out everything that I need to do and when it needs to be done by. Then I make a checklist for each day of the week and write down what I will do that day. If you can make a mental checklist without losing your marbles, I applaud you! That's very impressive in my book.

Step 2: Get Through the Week

For me, the only way I can work through my stress is to do everything on my checklist for each day. That's just me though. You might have a different method of keeping track of what you need to do. Either way, I find it helpful to take it one week at a time. After I get through the first week, I repeat the process of organizing to-do lists for the next week until my life slows down a bit.

Step 3: Make Time for What You Love

It is important to make sure you get everything done that you need to but I think it's equally important to set some time aside to do something you enjoy doing. Setting at least an hour aside each week for your passion will take the pressure off and dissolve the feelings of anxiousness and worry. 

Doing what you love, whether it be drawing, reading, playing an instrument, or something else entirely, gives your brain a break and allows it to focus on something that makes you happy. This will rejuvenate you and, hopefully, leave you feeling motivated and inspired.

 

It's easy to sit around and let stress consume our thoughts and actions as we struggle to get just one task done. In my personal experience, the best way to approach a busy time in your life is with a plan. These steps help me work through a stressful time but everyone is different and must find what works best for them.

 

Equifinality, Old Loves and Going to Professional School

 

One of the things that bothers me most about myself is the fact that I’m multi-passionate. I’m often so overwhelmed with project ideas that they keep me up at night. There are so many subjects I want to learn about, so many stories I want to write, so many pursuits I’d like to try. Earlier today, it took all my strength to not get a book I saw on Critical Race Theory from the library. The stack of books next to my bed has already extended itself to occupy both the floor and my window sill.

When I was in high school, my partner at the time was single-minded. He wanted to go to medical school. All his extracurriculars, hobbies and volunteer work lined up with that goal. He started reading The Economist because a med school application coach told him it would help him. Today, he’s in med school. At the time, I was on student council, in the school choir, in the drama club, I worked as a lifeguard, volunteered for the Arthritis Society, took history and creative writing for my electives. None of my activities lined up. Years later, I’m in the same boat.

Sometimes I worry that being multi-passionate will prevent me from being successful. I worry that because I don’t have the tunnel vision that my old boyfriend had that I won’t achieve my dreams like he achieved his. At the end of the day though, I don’t want to be successful like him, I want to be successful like me.

I could never read The Economist because someone told me it would help me get into medical school. I could only read The Economist if I actually wanted to read The Economist. There’s a big difference between wanting to read something and wanting to have read something. I’m reminded of this every time I think it might be nice to read more “classic” literature. It always seems like a good idea, but when I’m actually curled up with Herman Melville and he’s spewing all this useless shit about whales — No, thank you.

I’ve recently realized that I’m not an “ends justifies means” person. I've also realized that I don’t have to be.

Equifinality is the principle that the same end state can be reached via different trajectories. This past year, I learned that even when it comes to professional school, equifinality is possible.

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. When I started studying for the LSAT, I thought I needed to be like my old boyfriend. I committed myself to study and only study; to abandon all my other goals and interests.

It went well at first. I started waking up around 5am so I could study before my day job started at 9am. I would come home pretty tired, would study a bit more then go to bed. After the initial romance of my commitment wore off, I found inspiration seeping through the cracks of my Spartan routine. When making dinner, I'd be inspired to write something and steal 20 minutes to type that idea up. Some mornings, I'd wake up full of energy and skip a lesson to go to the gym.


The cheating seemed harmless at first, a stolen kiss here and there. Before I knew it though, it was a full fledged multi-passionate affair. I took on film projects and wrote every week, I started marbling paper and selling handmade goods on Etsy and at craft fairs. I read books; many, many books that had nothing to do with logic. All the while working 40 hours a week at my day job.

It was sometime during this passion-project-binge that my dad asked me how my studying was going. It's true that I was stressed at the time (very stressed if I'm being honest) but when it came down to it I was in control of my studying. I understood the material and was doing great in my problem sets.

When I wrote the LSAT, I aced it. I didn't have to re-write and I got accepted into Law School a few weeks later.

It was important for me to write this piece because I was wrong. You don't need to be a machine to succeed. You don't need to sleep, breath and live for one goal. It could be that you want to. I'm just not about that life. This past year, I learned a lot about logic but I also learned I don't need to change who I am to get what I want.

I'm not saying that you have to achieve your goals my way or my old boyfriend's way. There’s no binary, no either/or. At the end of the day, the only right way is "your way."

Don’t be afraid that you’re doing it wrong, your only job is to do it.

 

A Week Without "Stuff" - Adventures in El Salvador

Living in a developed country opens the door for us to have "stuff". I'm sure you know what I mean. Electronics, clothes, and other things that just lay around the house for ages (because you never know when you might need your grandma's old stencil kit). I'm not saying we don't need any of that stuff but the problem is, we always think we need all of it. 

My Experience in El Salvador

Over March break, I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador for an 8-day missions trip with my church. I didn't know what to expect but what happened when I was there changed my life and the way I see people.

I didn't bring any electronics with me because I wanted to be fully immersed in the culture with no distractions so that I would, hopefully, be impacted. 

Waking up every morning at 5:45 was totally worth this view.

Waking up every morning at 5:45 was totally worth this view.

In the middle of the week, we packed bags of food and travelled to visit homes around the mountain. At each home we visited, the home-owners were more than happy to have us. They cleared a space for us to sit and were very welcoming. The majority of the homes we visited were the size of my bedroom and had four tin walls and a roof. 

When I used to have friends over, they would comment on how small my room is. In El Salvador, families of four or more rented a space that size and called it their home.

The families were all very thankful for what they had and only asked that we pray for good health and blessings upon their lives.

Seeing how happy those people were with so little "stuff" made me realize that I live with a lot of things that I don't need. Coming back home was a bit of a shock because my mindset had changed but everything here hadn't.

What I found was that people still buy things they don't need. They are still unwilling to throw out or donate old and unused things. They want more, more, more. I used to be that way and it took a week of completely cutting that mindset out of my life for me to realize it.

Since I got back, not a day goes by when I look around and see how lucky I am to be born into all this. We are so privileged and a lot of people don't realize it. 

Being in El Salvador has taught me that it's important to take a step back and see what is cluttering your life (literally). Sometimes, you do what you have to do and get rid of some of that stuff. Because, let's be honest, you probably don't need that purple-haired troll doll anymore.

How to Beat the Winter Blues

 

Winter is the season that people love to hate. It lasts too long, constantly reminding us of its presence with bitter winds, piles of uncooperative snow, and freezing temperatures that make our noses turn as red as tomatoes. Whether you passionately hate winter or just endure it, it comes every year without fail so we might as well make the most of it.

Accept It

Accepting that winter has come is the necessary first step to enjoying the season. I'm not saying you have to be happy about it (yet), but there's no use in wearing t-shirts and rolling up the cuffs of your jeans to make capris. It's time to put the sneakers away and bring out the boots. Dressing to protect from the cold is more important than you might think. Instead of constantly thinking about all the escaping body heat when wearing a simple sweater, bundle up in a warm coat. When you add layers and can't feel the cold, you'll be less miserable.

Embrace It

This is a lot easier said than done but I think a key step to having a good winter is getting outside and enjoying the beauty of it. It doesn't happen often but there are days when there's no wind and it's not snowing. These are the days you really need to get some fresh air. The sun shines brightly, the snow rests gently on tree branches, and a few birds chirp happily. What better way to get some vitamin D than to enjoy nature?

Enjoy It

Winter is much easier to like if you learn to love winter activities. Skating is a great way to spend time with friends and have a conversation as you glide across the ice. If you don't know how to skate, lacing up and learning for the first time is a fun memory that you and your friends can share. One of my personal favourites is tobogganing. I love bundling up, sliding down an icy hill, and feeling the snow hit my face as I fly. Of course, there's also sports like hockey, snowboarding, and skiing to keep you occupied.

Overall, winter is not always the most enjoyable season but it has its perks. And when you're feeling down, sometimes all you need to do is  indulge your inner child and build a snowman.

 

Sticking to Resolutions

 

Whether it’s going on a diet, getting into shape, or spending more time with family, New Years resolutions are what everyone hopes to achieve but no one puts in the work long enough to make a difference in their life. And yes, I realize January is almost over and resolutions have probably already been broken a few times. That’s why this post is all encompassing, highlighting 4 key steps to sticking to any type of commitment or goal.

 

1. Be Specific

Unfortunately, saying “I want to lose weight” isn’t going to cut it this time. Making goals specific is what makes them achievable. Make a plan for yourself. How much weight do you want to lose? When do you want to loose it by? Of course, this is just an example but answering these goal-specific questions creates the outline for a practical plan. Not to mention, being general will make a resolution seem never ending, draining you of determination and drive.

 

2. Take Baby Steps

Instead of always focusing on the long term commitment and how far away the end seems, get through today. And when tomorrow comes, get through that day. I know from personal experience that thinking “I have to do this for a whole year” is discouraging. Just breathe and take things one day at a time. 

 

3. Be Held Accountable

If you don’t trust yourself to keep your hands out of the cookie jar, share your resolution with a close friend or family member that is willing to dish out some tough love when needed. Explain to your confidant why your commitment is important to you so they will be encouraged to check in with you every day, making sure you’re sticking it out. And if someone else holding you accountable isn’t enough, set reminders for yourself throughout the day that will act as your mind’s refresher.

 

4. Be Encouraged

Commitments are hard, especially long term ones. It’s easy to lose the determination that make goals achievable which is why it’s important to celebrate small victories and be proud of yourself. Be proud of yourself for eating a salad instead of a cheeseburger! Be proud that you spent time with your family instead of watching Netflix in your room! Woo hoo, you made it through the day! Sometimes, self-encouragement is the best type there is because if you don’t believe in yourself, others believing in you won’t make much of a difference. Telling yourself that you rocked it, and genuinely believing it, will help you feel capable and empowered and will give you a fresh set of determined eyes.


At the beginning of a resolution, it’s easy to give up, especially when you can start again the next day. But if you keep telling yourself that you’ll start the next day, life won’t change.

 

What an Injury Taught Me About Gratitude

 
 
Andrea Seccafien is an elite distance runner focusing on the 5000m and 10,000m. This past summer, she suffered a season ending injury early and could not compete for a spot on the Pan Am Games team and struggled to find positivity while sidelined all summer. This is her story:
 
 

I remember the moment I finally accepted I wasn't going to have a outdoor track season this year. I was up at altitude, it was the middle of April and I hadn't run since February. While this may have seemed obvious to most people around me, I had an absolute death grip on my goals of making the Pan Ams team, running personal bests and proving I’m still relevant.

It would be a grave understatement to say I let go of my goals easily and took this injury in stride. I spent a lot of time upset and frustrated that I didn’t even get to try to achieve my goals, that I didn’t line up to race a single time. It wasn’t until the Pan Ams team was named that I really let it go.

It’s now been 6 months since I’ve been able to train consistently and while I’ve missed running deeply, more challenging to me is how to be positive with this obvious, gaping hole in my life. My coaches, my physical therapists, my teammates would tell me “Stay positive.” And while I’m fully aware that positivity makes you happier, and healthier, this advice to stay positive didn’t resonate with me. Until it did.

But it wasn’t positivity, it was gratitude.

Gratitude is the opposite of depression and anxiety. It’s the conscious experience of appreciating the gifts in our lives.

At the beginning of every day, I answer: I am grateful for… and What would make today great?

When you start the day on the right note, things automatically start to fall in place. It pulls my focus away from the obvious struggle; this  injury, and brings it to something positive; the people in my life, americanos, outdoor pools with lane swim. And as simple, or cliche as this may sound, it honestly makes me feel better.

andamericano

And whenever I get down throughout the day because it’s beautiful out and I can’t run, I think about the second question “What would make today great?” and I focus on doing those goals instead of what I cannot do.

Gratitude puts situations into perspective. While I previously had four very healthy years with steady improvements, no one rises to the top without stumbling at least once. And while this year was far from ideal, there are plenty of things I can focus on right now to help me come back stronger and more fired up in the future.

ABOUT THE Author

 

Andrea is currently living and training in Toronto, Ontario. She is a Canadian University (CIS) national champion, a Canadian national champion and has represented Canada internationally. She has her sights firmly set on Rio2016 and the 2017 World Championships. 

This post originally appeared on her site: www.andreaseccafien.com 

 

Lessons on Success from a Recovering Perfectionist

 

The summer I turned 19, I started going to therapy. I had just completed my first year of university. I moved out of my dorm and back home where I was welcomed by a series of panic attacks. 

The first attack hit me the hardest. I remember not even feeling sad or upset before it happened. It seemed to just came out of nowhere. My vision blurred, I couldn’t think and I began crying, gasping for breath, my chest on fire. I remember falling to the floor, and crawling into my closet for shelter. From the floor, I called my best friend. I don’t remember what I said, but she showed up within minutes and we drove around and sat in her car in a Tim Hortons parking lot until I felt better. 

Aside from the attacks, it got to the point that I was either so upset or so emotionally numb, that I couldn’t eat. It was then that I made an appointment to see my family doctor. 

After some tests, my doctor diagnosed me with “moderate anxiety” and “mild depression.” She thought I would benefit from medication, but I was already on so many different drugs for my arthritis she wanted to start me out with therapy. So I got a prescription to visit a psychologist. 

During one of my first sessions, my therapist said something about me being “a perfectionist” but I brushed it off. There was no way I could be a perfectionist. I was nowhere close to being as good as a perfectionist would be. A perfectionist would know how to properly style her hair, would be meticulous about her weight and would have gotten all A’s at school (I had gotten a B that semester — in psychology, ironically). I told my therapist I was “too lazy” to be called “Type A.” That’s when she laughed. “The funny thing though, Faith,” she said, “Is that you’re even a perfectionist about being a perfectionist.” 

In the last year, what’s become increasingly apparent to me is that my perfectionism is more of a hindrance than it is a help. After I first acknowledged that I indeed was a perfectionist (which took some time), I told myself it was a good thing because it motivated me to be better. But that statement in itself illuminates the real danger of having a perfectionist belief system. 

When you’re a perfectionist, you believe that there is something inherently wrong or missing from who you are as a person. You believe that you (and life) will only be okay, when you become better. 

I was constantly making lists of things I needed to do to be better. I needed to lose “x” amount of weight, read “x” amount of books, get another publication, finish another project — that’s when I’d be good enough.

And since I tied my worth to my productivity and accomplishments, I was meticulous about managing my free time. Each day, when I got home from work, I’d write articles, read "important" books, workout, take classes, volunteer, etc. I was obsessive about being productive and using my time effectively. 

What I’ve come to realize though is that productivity does not equal effectiveness. My definition of success, i.e. completing everything on my perfectionist bucket list, was a lose-lose situation. When I did accomplish something on the list, something else was added — the list was never-ending so in turn I was never good enough. 

The other losing aspect of my definition, was that striving towards it was wearing me down. My perfectionism was all consuming. I was no longer doing things because I wanted to, I was doing them because I felt I had to. I wasn’t living my life for me. I was a human-doing, not a human-being.

There is a big difference between having a busy life and a full life. Human doings equate productivity with effectiveness, but Alfred A. Montapert said it best when he said, “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” 

Christine Hassler outlines that a full life is “being fulfilled from the inside out.” When I was a perfectionist, I was basing my worth off my external accomplishments. Our worth, however, is not based on anything outside of ourselves. We are inherently worthy. 

By acknowledging our own worth, we lessen the hold perfectionism has on us. We give ourselves the opportunity to base our actions off the desires of our heart instead of our feelings of “less than.”

To live with more intention, it’s important to ask yourself if what you're doing and how you’re living is serving you. To start living with more intention right now, start by taking a breath. Slowing down is the best defence against "autopilot living." Being present is a scary place for perfectionists because they often want to have completed tomorrow, yesterday. Perfectionists are so focused on how much better they want to be, they miss how great they already are. Don’t miss how great you already are. To feel good, see good. Focus on the positive. 

So take a moment, slow down, and bask in the awesome that is you. I promise it will feel better than crossing something else off your to-do list. 

 

A New Tool to Increase Happiness: Visual Cues

 

If we didn’t believe that surrounding ourselves with beauty made us feel better we wouldn’t have interior design. 

Every year, students decorate the bland, off-white walls of their dorm rooms with posters. Often it’s posters of their favourite movies, cities and celebrities. Unlike the walls of an apartment you rent or own, the walls of a dorm room can’t be altered. You can’t paint or make holes in them, your options are limited. That’s what makes posters such a good alternative. 

Although a poster can’t completely cover the unpalatable colour and texture of dorm walls, a poster still gives your eye a distraction. It creates a focal point. 

When you consider that most posters we buy are of things we like or love, posters not only add aesthetic value to environments, they add sentimental and emotional value. As a result, you can think of a poster as a “visual cue” that reminds us of things we like and make us feel good. In this way, a visual cue can counteract the general malaise one might feel from a bland or sterile environment. 

Visual cues can be used as a remedy for malaise in a variety of settings. In my personal life, because I live with chronic illness, most of my workspaces are covered in bottles of pills and other home care items such as therapy bands, heating pads and ergonomical supports. I also wear an ugly splint on my left trigger finger that always clashes with my outfits. 

There’s no way to really hide the clinical nature of these objects and because of my condition I can’t get rid of them. As a result, I’ve started using visual cues to counteract the malaise I get from staring at these objects day in and day out. 

For example, when I wear my splint, I wear different rings next to it. I’ve also started using a pretty pillbox for my daily meds. Although you may not be able to change the environment you live in you can add visual cues to that environment. The aesthetic and emotional value of these visual cues will provide you with comfort in an otherwise unsettling environment.

Here are some examples of how I used visual cues to ameliorate my experience of my health paraphernalia. 

IMG_3745 copy 2.jpg

 

Author's Note: I included this essay in the "Live with Intention" section of Lamp in Hand because you may not be able to pick where you spend your time, but you can intentionally change how that environment makes you feel.

 

 

What it Means to Live with Intention

 

Living with intention is what I like to think of as the practical application of critical thinking in our everyday lives. 

Critical thinking is what we use to process the world that surrounds us and the information we encounter in the world. We use critical thinking everyday. We use it for problem solving and in research, whether we’re learning about something scientific or simply choosing between two recipes for dinner.

Living with intention is when we add critical thinking to the decisions we make about how we want to live our lives. Living with intention is all about living on purpose instead of accidentally. My very wise Aunt has a saying that many people “sleep walk” through life. Similarly, there is the adage, “everyone dies, but not everybody lives.” By adding intention to your life, you will add meaning to your experience of this world. 

Although we may think and believe specific things whole heartedly, our actions do not always reflect those convictions. Analyzing our day to day lives using critical thinking holds us accountable to our personal beliefs and priorities. That is where living with intention comes into play. 

Sometimes we "Sleep Walk" through life. 

Sometimes we "Sleep Walk" through life. 

 

A Reflection Activity to Accompany this Essay

Not sure how to start living with intention? Here are some tips and questions to ask yourself. 

 
  1. Determine your priorities 
  2. See if your behaviour lines up with your priorities
  3. Make appropriate changes if your behaviour does not line up with your priorities

Need help determining your priorities? Start by asking yourself what’s most important to you. What activities bring you joy? Joy reveals to us our passion.

Living without intention is like traveling without direction.  

Living without intention is like traveling without direction.

 

Once you know what your priorities are, see if your behaviour lines up with those priorities. An easy way to track your behaviour is to do a “time audit.” For one day, write down everything you do and how long it takes. You don’t need to have scientific accuracy - just make some quick jot notes on your phone or keep a scrap piece of paper in your pocket.

If your behaviour does not line up with your values, make some changes. A good rule to follow for living with intention is to do something everyday for each one of your priorities. If your priorities are your family and your health, you would want to make sure you do at least one activity for both.