So, here it is — the almost obligatory end of the semester, keep-your-chin-up public service announcement.
At this point, we college students are living through an archetypal story. We’re cranking out papers on Foucault and geothermal heating systems like those factory machines that can spit out a thousand naked Twix bars in a minute. Possible exam questions are nagging us like clots of mosquitoes buzzing just out of swatting range. Semester-long projects we’ve so far only half-assed have animorphed into pet chimpanzees turned feral from neglect, and they’re coming in fast to maul our faces.
Meanwhile, the championship has gone up in smoke with a pile of extinguished couches, and cold fronts of exam stress are meeting warm fronts of imminent summer departure to induce deluges of romantic drama.
Basically, we feel screwed like … well … a screw. But, enough similes and metaphors; let’s get to the hearty dark meat of this message.
I find that in overwhelming times like these, when responsibility pressures me to make drastic and uncharacteristic decisions — like putting off the season premiere of Mad Men in order to write a School of Art & Design paper on how drop spindles act as tools for meditation and community building — I have to do all I can to remember myself.
In other words, it’s actually easy to cower in a sarcophagus of stress. If I think, I’m powerless to the larger forces of duty and expectation, then spending my evenings in a rotation between perusing Etsy shops, staring at a blank Word document and picking at my cuticles becomes a pattern that seems somehow necessary to the process of polishing off winter term. But in actuality I get nothing done and end up feeling worse about myself with each wasted hour.
My first mistake in this situation is trading my binoculars in for a microscope. I become so hyper-focused on the immediate future and its associated stress that I paralyze my brain and creative energies. I forget that the tasks I have to complete are actually infinitesimally tiny steps toward a greater and unknown future, and it’s not hard to lose sight of who I am outside of all this pressure.
Of course, I know that reducing myself to a rubber-band ball of self-doubt and aggravation isn’t good for anyone. It can make me lash out at my housemates for little things, like leaving bacon grease at the bottom of our frying pan. It can keep me from seeing that my friends are experiencing similar states of mind and that my predicament is no worse than theirs. Most of all, it’s unhealthy and unproductive. But how do I shake the cycle?
Well, I’ve made a pact with myself to screw the system and choose my mental health above all else.
I know. It sounds too simple, yet borders on blasphemous.
Let me explain.
By now, I’ve known myself for 20 years. I’m familiar with my limitations. I know that when I get that white-hot feeling of anxiety in my chest or my lungs feel cramped and airless after too much time in the bowels of Hatcher Graduate Library, it’s time to back off. I’ve learned that strategic procrastination can actually be an asset. Setting aside a week’s worth of evenings to write a term paper can result in heaps of wasted time that would’ve been better spent blowing off steam at the Blind Pig or going out for Bibimbap with my friends.
It all comes down to trust. When I look at my track record, I’ve rarely let myself down. If there’s an important task to complete, I’ll get it done, even if that means concluding an essay only minutes before class or staying up all night to sand a sculpture for critique the next morning. And I know I can do this without sacrificing the activities that keep me buoyant, like napping, gossiping, giggling, dancing, weaving, writing, whatever.
Sure, this tactic may not be for everyone. Maybe you’re one of those people who get a kick out of squinting at organic chemistry slides until your brain feels like a bloated peanut. That’s fine; you do you.
But, if you’re feeling like Sisyphus and are searching for relief, I recommend taking a step back. Do a naked lap around your house. Take a make out break in the Stacks. Eat an unholy amount of sushi. Treat yourself. This is only a few weeks in the scheme of your entire life, and if happiness isn’t making itself readily available to you then you have to create your own oasis.
Emily Pittinos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.