Struggling with stress
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash
Seemingly it’s considered normal for academics to take up a lot of responsibilities, sparing little time for themselves. After all, this is Academia, it’s ‘supposed’ to be like this. But, it should be like this? What impact does this sort of life have on our mental health? Should we keep considering the stereotypical ‘academic lifestyle’ as the norm?
A few days ago, Stephanie told us about her experience of how overloading yourself with too much work can have terrible consequences. With the aim of encouraging more academics to speak up about their mental struggling, here I’m going to tell you about my experience.
October and November have been the worst months of my year so far. I came back to a new academic year after a *short* period of holidays with already too many things to do: I was accepted at a conference, started my empirical study, began working as a GTA (graduate teaching assistant), on top of working other jobs I already had... Without realising it, I ended up with four jobs plus my academic responsibilities. I realised from the onset that this was going to be too much. However, I told myself: ‘Well, it will just be a temporary thing, and as long as everything fits in the schedule, it should be fine’. Working in the mornings, working in the afternoons, working at the weekends - I had time for everything! I wasn’t missing anything, was I?
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Blinded by my time management abilities, I thought that as long as I managed to find time for all my responsibilities, everything would be fine. With all that I forgot about a very important responsibility - myself! Although I did have time to rest and made sure I had at least a day a week for myself, I was using that time for other ‘commitments’. I kept thinking ‘If I work from home, it doesn’t really count as work, does it?’ Well, apparently it does. I soon realised I needed time to myself, alone.
Unfortunately, some family issues came up during this time, making me change my plans. Suddenly, I felt the urge to take an express trip back home. At first, I felt guilty for taking time off, I found that this time could serve a dual-purpose. I would be able to support my family through a difficult time, plus I would have much-needed downtime for myself.
I booked some last-minute flights and spent a long-weekend back in Barcelona. This was a very odd trip for me because since I moved to the UK I have only been back home for holidays (holidays cluttered with 24/7 meetings with friends…), but this was the first time I was going because I felt I really needed. Once there I knew this was a very good decision. Not only did I have the chance to be with my family but I was also able to reconnect with myself and have some time alone. This gave me the chance to come back with a different perspective to take the things easier and slower.
I’m sure though, that this situation will probably happen again, so it’s very important to remind myself of the following things:
Image credit to Adriana Alcaraz
(1) If possible, prevention is the best remedy against stress.
I’m aware that many of us struggle with this same thing, but maintaining a good work/rest balance is important for dealing with stress.
-If you work as part of a team, try to distribute tasks with others. We usually find ourselves taking more responsibility than necessary when this can be easily solved by sharing them with your team.
-If you work alone, try to prioritise tasks. Do you really need to have everything on the ‘to-do’ list finished by tomorrow are some things more important than others? Plan deadlines and try to reach one thing a time. This fantastic post on time-management gives you some ways how to proceed.
Image credit to Patrick Schneider on Unsplash
(2) Check in with yourself.
Sometimes we realise we are stressed when it’s already too late. But stress usually doesn’t appear out of nowhere; instead, it’s usually built up over time. I recently came across this video from my friend and life coach Ariadne Kapsali who explains very nicely how to identify the symptoms of anxiety and how to address them.
Meditation is a great way to check in with yourself. I have found the free app called ‘Headspace’ to be very useful. It offers very easy exercises using mindfulness and helps you to deal with your mild-anxiety more easily. The app also offers a paid version which I really recommend, but the free version is a good resource for those new to meditation.
Image credit to nikko macaspac on Unsplash
(3) If you have already reached the limit, seek help.
Inevitably, despite our greatest efforts to prevent anxiety building up, sometimes it does. It’s important that when you reach your limit you communicate this to others. This can be either friends, colleagues or your supervisor. Let them know about your current status and don’t be afraid of rescheduling any commitments you might have. After all, you probably won’t be able to give your best if you are suffering from burnout. So take some time aside, rebuild energy, and come back once you feel ready.
Also, in urgent cases, don’t forget about the counselling services on Campus.