Stress is the worst, but here’s how I learned to deal with it

 

Last year, as most of you probably know, I was a bit of a mess. School and extracurricular activities had completely taken over my life, and I felt like I was drowning in stuff that would never get done. It took me a fairly long while to really feel any better than ambivalent about going back to school—I was terrified that this year would turn out no better than last year, that there was no space left for improvement. Well, I was wrong. I’ve made it through a semester of junior year, which is supposed to be the most stressful time in high school. I won’t lie—it’s tough. But last year was worse.

Here’s the deal with the worst experiences ever, though. Most of us will do anything to prevent them from happening again.

As a result, I spent some quality time thinking about stress, and how I, personally, process and react to it.

So, without further ado, here are what I consider to be the 4 best methods I found for dealing with the massive stress overload that is junior year.

  1. Running
    It’s no secret on this blog that I run. A lot. There’s something about being active, and getting away—mentally and physically—from the work on my desk. Even if not everything gets done, I can say that I ran 5 miles that day. I can take an hour, hit the trails, and when I come back, everything seems a little more manageable. This one might not work so well for people who don’t like running, but… for me, running isn’t just a way of getting in exercise. It’s a form of meditation, a chance to get out of my head and stop overthinking everything. I can just be, me with the nature and the music that is inevitably playing a little too loudly through my headphones, and when I get home, I generally have achy legs, a raging dehydration headache, and a sense that I have done something that day—which is worth a lot, when it seems like it’s impossible to get anything done. Plus, exercise endorphins help to relax you and get a better night’s sleep, out of pure exhaustion if nothing else.
    running
  2. Baking
    On the surface, this looks like it’s just adding another thing to do, in an already over-packed schedule, and it’s timed and messy and easy to screw up… but I don’t see it that way. Yes, I get covered in flour and usually manage to get dough or batter up to my elbows, which proves to be quite difficult to clean off. Yes, it is timed, and it’s occasionally a bit nerve-wracking when you have to check the oven a million times in a five-minute span because at first everything looks undercooked, but if you leave it in too long it gets burnt. And yes, I do it anyway. Baking rarely takes any longer than an hour or two. Like running, it makes me feel like I’ve actually done something enjoyable that day. I get to follow instructions, with visible (and edible!) proof that I’ve done it right, which is one of my eternal frustrations with school—I never know how well I have or haven’t done, until I get something back with a number on it. Baking grants me that level of instant gratification, and because the instructions do often require some level of focus, it allows me to not think about everything else that I have to do. It lets me get outside of my own head a little bit. Plus, I get cookies or muffins or banana bread.
    (I should point out that finals week mostly means my house smells like cookies and bananas for the whole week straight, and we didn’t have space for all the baked goods. Unavoidable hazard, I suppose?)
    And I was able to bring in cookies during finals week, for my stressed-out friends and classmates, which was nice, and still have leftovers, which are currently in my freezer.
    bakingbasics.jpg
  1. Journaling
    Like running, I doubt that this one will surprise anyone who has read this blog for a while, or who knows me in person. I’ve been carrying around small journals since I was little, though I only got serious about writing every day when I was thirteen or so. That need to write—not just fiction, but also poetry, and my own thoughts, even early blog post drafts—has waxed and waned, but has always been present, and lately it’s taken the form of regular journaling, essentially a continuous freewrite on the subject of what happened that day. It’s unbelievably helpful for thinking through the events of the day, processing it and de-stressing from it at the same time. It’s a nice way to end the day, especially if I can think of any good things that happened during the day, which I might otherwise forget in favor of stressing out over pointless details. In addition to journaling, I’ve also been keeping an obsessively organized planner, instead of the computer calendar I used to use. I don’t know—something about the act of writing down plans, and checking items off with their little checkboxes, is really relaxing and it makes me feel much better organized and more accomplished.
    journaling.jpg
  2. Sleep
    I cannot emphasize this enough. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. It’s okay if not everything gets done. Sleep is the foundation of good health, both mental and physical. There is no point in pulling an all-nighter to finish a project, if the work is going to be shoddy and not very well thought-out. It might seem like the work is up to par, but trust me. If it happens after 2 am on a regular basis, chances are, the work is not my best. This is probably the biggest difference between this year and last year—I’ve started prioritizing sleep over assignments, and… it’s actually kind of miraculous. The assignments don’t all get done, but my teachers understand. My grades have gone up (reducing a major point of stress right there). The world doesn’t stop spinning if I don’t finish a minor science lab. I haven’t (knock on wood) gotten sick this year.
    Obviously, I’m not advocating for everyone to suddenly slack off on all their work. But I am saying that every once in a while, it’s okay to not be perfect, if it means getting a decent night’s sleep out of it.

Through these four actions, I’ve gotten back to enjoying school. I no longer feel like I’m drowning in more work than I can handle. Junior year is tough, but so far it’s been doable. I certainly wouldn’t repeat what I went through last year, but I’m glad that I learned what I did from the experience.
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I Am a Work in Progress, and So Are We All

Sometimes, I look around, and I don’t understand how I could be the same person I was back then. But then I look at myself and go “Oh, that’s how I got here. Okay.”

I read so much about characters in books who go through some seriously extreme character development, and by the end of the series, are completely unrecognizable from who they were at the beginning. I used to think that that was an exaggeration, but these days I’m not so sure.

Three years ago, I thought that I would be doing policy debate for my entire high school career. I was planning to go to the Emory debate camp, I was on a team with my best friends, and I was ranked the third middle school speaker in the state.

I quit debate two years ago, and have not regretted that decision even once.

I was equally convinced that I would continue with the same sports I was doing at the time, and theater as well. In 8th grade, I was involved in some capacity with every drama production my school had. I ran cross country, and I was a springboard diver. That was what I did, and it was what I was convinced that I would do no matter what. I think I knew, even then, that I would eventually have to give some of it up. But I didn’t know how much of it, or even when that would need to happen. Today? I haven’t had anything to with theater, for any of my high school experience. I still love watching a show, but I have no patience at all for all of the drama that comes with, well, drama. I still love running, but I’m much more comfortable running ten miles than I am running three, and I quit cross country this year so that I can run half marathons. As for diving… Well, I’ve quit that one several times, each one “for good.” But this time… I think it’ll stick. I’m not diving, I’m not coaching. But I am still managing a team. I still love the sport, there’s no doubt about that. But I no longer love being a competitor.
That, I think, is the main difference. Being the best is no longer my main drive. These days, I don’t much care whether I end up with the top spot on the podium. I care about doing my best. My main competitor is myself. “Personal best,” those are the words I care about, if I have to care about a label on one of my performances at all.

Three years ago… Honestly, sometimes I think everything has changed.

I didn’t care then, about how I looked, aside from learning the basics of makeup and how to straighten my hair. Now, I poke and prod at myself in the mirror, wondering what a normal body shape is, and forcing myself to remember that airbrushed models look nothing like that in real life.
I would never have qualified myself as an artist then. I wrote poetry, all the time, and sometimes stories. Sometimes, the stories were long, and it was three years ago that I wrote my first attempt at a novel (I gave up about a hundred pages in). Now, I’ve published one novel and I’m working on another. I have job at an art museum, and I have committed to a project involving art-based-on-books which will be presented at a Decatur library before this year is out.

I’m still friends with most of the people I knew three years ago. But I’m friends with so many people I didn’t even know existed before. My best friends range from people I’ve known since preschool to people I met on day one of freshman year, and even to people who I was convinced I hated for a long time.

I can trace some of the changes in who I am back to specific events. Specific moments when I decided, “yes, this is who I am.”

But there are some changes I can’t figure out.

Some of those are simple, like my enjoyment of coffee. I don’t know when I started drinking it, but I did, and now I really enjoy it. Some would say I rely on it.

I don’t know when I became friends with some people I know. We hated each other, and now we don’t.

Barnes and Noble became my favorite study spot.

I started wearing high heels on a more regular basis, and makeup nearly every day to school.

Few of these changes are really who I am. But they are all a part of me. And all of them would completely shock the three-years-ago me.

Three years isn’t that much time.

But eighth grade seems simultaneously like yesterday and like forever ago, and sophomore year of college is both a single step in front of me, and so far away I can’t even fathom everything that could occur between now and then.

That’s part of the thought process behind the name of this blog—This is how I feel right now. In a few years, that will be a memory. But it will be a memory on a record. I will be able to look back at what I wrote, and remember the person I was when I wrote it.

As a person, I am constantly a work in progress. And isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

A Back to School Post is Kind of Obligatory, Isn’t It?

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As the title of this post indicates, I start school again this week.
As far as I can tell, I think it is going to be a bit of a strange experience.

For one thing, I’ll be an upperclassman.

For another, I will not be participating in any fall sports. I’m going to miss my enormous, sprawling, wonderful cross country team, but I’ve been running anywhere from 6-15 miles in a run lately, and it just didn’t make sense to keep competing 5ks anymore.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be busy—I will still be working for the High Museum of Art, and I will be a Writing Fellow throughout the year. I wrote another novel, I’m working on editing that and also working on some other new pieces, and I’m also taking mostly AP classes.

Which basically just means that I’ll be slightly less busy than I was last year. I’ll be doing almost as much work, but this time I get to sleep, too.

When I was first applying to high schools, I asked about the ability to participate in multiple extracurriculars. The girl I was talking to laughed and said, “You can do sports, you can be good at school, and you can sleep. Take any two of the three, because there’s no way anyone can manage all of them together.”

I laughed, too, because I thought she was joking.

Turns out… she was right.

Last year, I was doing sixteen extracurricular activities. On top of an all-honors/AP class schedule. And it was a bad, bad move, because it meant that I was operating on about five hours of sleep per night.

I was more or less nonfunctional, and I was going through hell every day just to get to class on time. I felt apathetic about a lot of opportunities I should have been really excited about, because it just felt like more of my time was being sucked up into activities that I didn’t really know how much I cared about.

It took me literally the entire summer to get my head into a place where I felt good about coming back to school.

But I’m in that place. I’m really excited to go back.

Because now? I’ve dropped enough activities and programs and clubs that I think I will be able to fully enjoy and appreciate the opportunities and options that my school affords me. I will be able to put my full effort and energy behind things. I went through what I did, and I really do believe that I have grown from that experience, gotten more organized and more strategic about my time allocation.
Everyone says that junior year is the one that matters, and I am ready to make it count.

What Does it Mean to Be Social?

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image creds to Wordograms

I’m a fairly outgoing person. Always have been. I’m reasonably friendly. I like people. I like hanging out with people.

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows this.
I’m also an introvert. Not  as many people know that, probably as a result of the aforementioned outgoing-ness. I’m good at communicating. I don’t shy away from activities like debate (I competed for 4 years!) which basically just consist of competitive talking.

I’m also a teenager of the current millennium, and a lot of my communication happens online. Texting, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter. Those things.

I work four days a week, in a capacity that involves talking to people. Being friendly and personable. This past week was especially busy even beyond that, but not inordinately so—I had a long phone conversation with a friend who lives a few states away. I had lunch with someone last weekend. I went to the mall after work with a friend. I went to a party this weekend. I would have been hanging out with a few people today, as well, but too many people had last-minute cancellations, so instead I had another long conversation with a close friend who moved last year. Time zones make it difficult to manage this, but we make it work anyway.

I am social. Undeniably so. Yet I am told that I have a tendency to isolate myself. To “cocoon” in my room with books and notebooks and my laptop.

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(Do I look like that?) creds to National Geographic)

And I have to wonder. What does it mean to be social, in this day and age where I can hide away and communicate only via technology—but I don’t?

And why do people think that I have a tendency to isolate when I am almost always talking to someone while I’m online, or going and doing things with people?

I’ve always considered myself a very social person, though I do often need a break from said social activities.

I recharge by being alone, but I am not and have never been a loner.

So I have to ask: why do people—people who know me, people who have raised me and stood by me for more than sixteen years— assume this not to be the case?

Is it a fear that my social life will be absorbed entirely by the internet?

I get the idea that it’s because I have the ability to be near-silent while I’m reading or writing, and then, because it is a huge part of my life, and it is something that I enjoy doing, I talk about them a lot. Much more than I do the parts of my life that consist of human interactions.

I also often don’t talk about real-life interactions because, well, they’re real life, human interactions, and those are personal, and I can have a good time with someone without needing to talk about it.

Sometimes I just want that experience to be between me and the person I shared it with.

Sometimes it’s just, you know, two friends out having fun, and none of what we do even makes sense to anyone who isn’t us.

But because, proportionally, I talk about that part of my life less, it seems like it’s nonexistent.

So where does that fit with people’s perceptions of me? How does that gel with my perception of myself?

I’m still the person I’ve always been.

I still like people. And it… doesn’t feel great to know that the people closest to me don’t see any of that.

I ask if they think I’m antisocial. They say that no, they know I’m not.

But then they tell me to get out of the house more often, and to make sure that I’m socializing with more people, because they don’t want me hiding myself away in a cloud of self-isolation.

It’s a double-standard, one that I fear is created by my generation’s dependency on technology for communication, and then exacerbated by my own strange combination of “outgoing+introvert=???”

I’m still as social as I’ve ever been. But I don’t know what that means anymore.

fishoutofwater

creds to characterstudy’s website

7 Reasons Why I Love Air Travel

Air travel seems to be a bit of a controversial thing. Some people hate it. Some people love it. Some people just look at it as a way to get from point A to point B.

I belong to the second category. So, without further ado:

  1. The adventure.
    I don’t know if other people feel this, or if I even feel it when I’m not travelling alone or with a group of friends. But when I’m through security and off in the world of hard-to-navigate concourses and overpriced food, I feel like I’m not just going somewhere, I’m going somewhere. I’m striding out into the big, wide, world. Responsibility yep, that’s me.
  2. The miracle of flight.
    Airplanes are actually pretty incredible when you think about it. They’re big and fat and made of metal, but also they manage to fly.
    Birds actually need to have hollow bones to weigh less in order to make it off the ground. But airplane engines are really freaking heavy, and they manage to propel this thing literally tens of thousands of feet in elevation. I always sort of feel like I’m from the future when I settle in and watch the scenery diminish out the window.
  3. The culture combinations.
    I’m from Atlanta, home to one of the busiest international airports in the world. Walking from security to my gate, I can easily hear twelve or thirteen different languages, and I can see the different fashions and styles from different places. It’s beautifully diverse. Airports are a crossroads for so many people who will never meet. I know at least seven of my friends were in the same airport at the same time as me, but… well, two ships passing in the fluorescent-lightbulb noon light?
  4. The people-watching
    Similar to the above. I’m a writer, and I’m constantly looking for some new character detail to incorporate. I tend to pick up those details by people-watching in busy places, and… well, there is no better place to do that than a place in which people are coming from Hong Kong and going to Cancún, or coming from France and going to Taiwan or Dubai. People carry so many elements of who they are on the outside, without thinking about it, and that creates a lot of opportunities for a writer like me. I can ask questions in my head like, where did that scarf come from, or what would bring a person to Atlanta, or even what causes a person to drink sprite instead of cranberry juice? And then I get to make up those answers, and that’s where I get characters, or snapshots, and then I can go and write short stories, or poetry, or whatever it is that I end up writing,  from there.
  5. The destination
    Okay, this one is pretty obvious. I love landing wherever I’m going, and looking around at baggage claim to find whoever is meeting me. I love knowing that I’m about to go off and have fun, to climb a mountain, to go to a summer program, or to visit a college. The destination isn’t just a physical place, it’s also the people who are there, whether that’s family or friends, peers or co-workers… I get excited to see them, every time.
  6. The view.
    Especially if I have the window seat, I love watching the ground grow tiny, reduced to geometric patterns smaller than a postage stamp. As long as I’m below cloud cover, the world is reduced to what looks like the cover of a John McPhee book, or one of my dad’s more abstract photos. And then, above the clouds, the view resembles an ocean more than it does puffy water vapor. Even if I’m seated directly next to the wing, the view never fails to astound me. Then, the landing view is just as intriguing, as the ground seems to grow bigger, and I can always get a good sense of the scenery of a place by flying over it at a low altitude. My two favorite cities to land in so far are Chicago and Boston, because of the clean lines of the beaches leading up to the cities, with real-life, actual trees everywhere.
    It’s also particularly interesting to fly over large swaths of the east and midwest when the snow hasn’t melted for springtime yet. I could see large patches of the map, looking like someone spilled flour and powdered sugar all over a printout of a Google Maps satellite view. It’s gorgeous, and it’s also absolutely unearthly… which is probably why I like it.
  7. The quiet.
    I live a very noisy life. I go to a school full of social teenagers, I’m in a loud and generally chaotic youth group, and my house is about as far from quiet as it gets. I never really get to just plug in a pair of earbuds and stop doing things, so that I can simply take a deep breath, open a book, and read. Or even just watch the aforementioned beautiful view. Or close my eyes, and do absolutely blissful nothing. Especially when flying alone, that two-hour flight is a good relaxation place for me. I can sit and just be for a while, but it’s not such a long while that my legs cramp up and I feel gross after a day of being absolutely sedentary.

Air travel is everything that I love about travel, with the additional magic of being several thousand feet off the ground. It’s a routine, a ritual, but there’s something drastically different about it every time, whether that’s the airport food you eat, or the gum you chew as the flight takes off and lands. Yes, air travel can be annoying. Yes, there can be hang-ups and snags every which way. But even so. Something inside of me is more than willing to put up with all of the frustration for the sake of the pieces that make it wonderful.

Know what makes you happy: Some thoughts on awareness

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It’s eating disorder awareness month. So, in the last few days of the month, I am writing.

No, I don’t have an eating disorder. But honestly, that probably makes it all the more important that I do stand up as an advocate for a healthier outlook on something.

I cannot personally relate to the topic of an eating disorder. However, I am writing about something I can relate to, something that is related, but not the same. Emotional self-awareness.

Everyone has days when they can find nothing to smile about. When they feel like the world is falling apart.

And to them, it really might feel like the world is crashing down around them.

Others might try and find ways to cheer them up, by using the same things that make them smile.

But often, it doesn’t work.

The simple truth is: Everyone has something that can make them smile, no matter what. The trick is finding it. The reason why it’s different for everyone? Everyone is different.

I asked several people I know what makes them smile.

The answers were incredibly diverse. One person said that a cute animal always does the trick. Someone else said that lame puns work for them.
I think that my favorite of these was also the fastest reply I got.

“If anyone else smiles at me. I smile back, and smiling makes me feel better. It’s reflexive.”

I find it to be incredibly important that we all know what affects us in a positive way. If you have never taken the time to identify something that can lift your spirits,then every time you’re feeling down, you’ll end up using the guess-and-check method to try and help yourself out.

It’s not healthy.

Before I started asking this question, I hadn’t put much thought into it, myself.

And I realized that that’s probably part of the reason it’s so easy to send me into an emotional tailspin, every time I get stressed out.

I’m a perfectionist. I like everything to be working smoothly, every time. And when it’s not… I spiral. I am more than capable of taking a mild annoyance and then mentally turning it into THE END OF THE WORLD OH GOD OH GOD WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE. And I’m not the only person I know who does that. In fact, I’m friends with a whole lot of people who do that exact thing to themselves.
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We’ve all gotten really good at pulling each other up out of the messes we create, which is why the one thing that can always help me calm down and just think fora minute, instead of panicking is a friend. It can be a little message icon on my phone. It can be a Snapchat. Sometimes it’s a two-hour long therapeutic talk over Skype or over the phone, if I haven’t seen the friend in a long time. I’ve called people for this one, and I’ve been called. I’ve stayed up past midnight to help out a friend when she was freaking out, thanks to a large time-zone difference, and I’ve done it more than once. I won’t drop everything to pick up the phone, but for some people, I will drop a lot of things.

And, because of the way that m   y friends and I help I asked another question as a follow-up to the first one. I asked what they do to cheer up someone who they don’t know. If they saw someone crying, or even just looking really miserable, but didn’t know them at all.

Some people told me that they wouldn’t do anything. I can understand that well enough—assuming that someone sitting alone wants to stay alone, or even just needing to be somewhere, and therefore not stopping in the middle of a busy day.

Others told me that they would go and get that person’s friends, if they knew who they were. That was a popular answer.

But there were a few answers that really stood out.

One person told me that he would stop and try to make friends with that person, find something that they had in common so that he could bring humor into the situation.

Someone else said that she would just give them a cookie.

One of my musically-talented friends mentioned that she might serenade them.

Another response was just to run up and hug the person (this particular person also ran up and hugged me, to demonstrate, when I asked him).

It all comes back to awareness.

If we are aware of our own emotions, if we know that we can build up our own confidence to pull ourselves up when we fall down, we can overcome a lot.
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Maybe we can’t overcome disorders or mental health issues.

But we can help ourselves reach the point where we’re a little closer. And maybe we can help other people get there too.

My mom has a rule in life. “Do what makes you happy.”

And she’s right. Happiness is key. I have a slight amendment to that rule: “Know what makes you happy.”

Wallowing in stress, and spiraling, the way that I have done from time to time? That’s not a good thing. But having a way to prevent it before it happens, or a way to help your defeated self to your feet when it’s all over? That very much is.

In the ends it’s important to remember: It might not feel like it, but in the end, it will be okay.

What makes you smile?
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Self-awareness-squirrel

What makes a leader? (NFTY Convention Post 2)

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Leadership is an interesting thing.

I mentioned in the last post that I was a part of the national convention for my youth group, NFTY.

While there, I attended multiple workshops on social justice, and also on leadership—specifically, what it takes to step up, and what it means to be a leader once you’re there.

In my region, we have an extensive elections process for those who want to be on the leadership teams in NFTY.

In other regions, the process can be more or less arduous, but no less legitimate.

And it got me thinking. Because leadership can be strange—sometimes, the true leaders in a community are the ones who have never been anywhere near an official title. Sometimes they are, in fact, the elected officials. But they are always there. Which raises the question: What is it that separates a leader from someone who isn’t?

I think that there are many, many different types of leaders.

The first is the obvious. The ones who walk into a room and immediately take charge, who have enough confidence to stand up and declare “I want to be a leader!” These are the ones who will be elected to some position sooner or later, and even if they aren’t, they will probably serve on a committee before they leave the organization. People are drawn to them. They know it.

The second is considerably more subtle. The people who never run for a position, who never state that they want any type of power. These are the people with quiet strength, who say little, but when they do speak up, it means something. These are the people to whom everyone looks, but perhaps the rest of the group is not actually aware of that.

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Both types of leaders are valid, and there are a hundred more types in between.

The question is… What makes a leader who and what they are?

Is it confidence? Is it charisma, the ability to hold the attention of everyone in the room? Is it simply intelligence, the power of a high IQ and good ideas?

Is it the ability to take a loss?

I attended a workshop on how to select the leaders, from within a community.

It turns out, there are many different ways to do that, and no system is perfect.

For some groups, the system is self-selective. The leaders step up, they form a little interconnected community, and they go from there, somehow being perfectly functional. Some people do it through nominations. My group does some sort of combination thereof.

But we learned about another group, Netzer Olami, which is our umbrella organization (you might call it a parent organization). For them, everyone is a leader, from the day they first join the organization, until they are eighteen and they age out. Older kids are in charge of the younger kids, and younger kids are in charge of themselves. They are groups, they are committees, run entirely by themselves and by each other.

And it works.

I don’t know what the most important trait is that a leader has to have. I don’t know what the best way is to select a leader.

What I do know is that everyone has the potential to be one.

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