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.
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.
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.
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.
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.