June 10, 2011

Wax On, Wax Off

Heaven knows I've been stressed out of my mind before. And the selfsame knows that I have dealt with this stress in positive and negative ways. Here are three positive ways of dealing with a stressed-out life that won't get you arrested, in the hospital, or both.

1. Go Exercise

In the immortal words of Elle Woods, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don't kill people." If you feel like, lately, all you've wanted to do is slam your computer shut and then smack the people in your group around with it, take a deep breath and walk away for a while.

Exercise is a fairly well-documented stress relief/management technique that does exactly as the always-lovely Miss Woods described: it releases chemicals in your body that elicit positive emotions in your mind. Exercise also helps you metabolize, regulating your blood sugar (which, in turn, can affect your mood). Finally, exercise gets you away from your stressor (unless it's your work-out buddy, in which case you're SOL, sorry) and gives you some solitary time.

I can't speak for everyone, but sometimes the problem with the group-work so prevalent in business schools is that it gives me what I call "people overload." People overload means that I feel like I've been around people way too much lately, and need some Me Time to recollect my thoughts and my person, or else I will smack So-And-So the next time s/he opens his/her mouth. It also means that, frankly, I don't want to do anything involving other people for a while. I've known more than a few people who feel this way after long, grueling hours spent with the same four-to-six people hours upon hours in a windowless computer lab, classroom, or library. Exercise gives you the perfect excuse to get away from those people, even if it's just you taking the stairs down to the lobby rather than the elevator.

Exercise is also as effective as caffeine to wake you up. Definitely worth more than the triple-shot venti latte you were gonna reach for -- and far less sugary and/or expensive.

2. Balance Your Life

If you are pulling 14-hour days between classes and projects, for the love of everything good in this world, spend some time with your actual friends. Even if all you do is catnap on them while they watch a movie, being away from your stressor and around people who love and support your can only do good things. Now, whether you drink or play Cranium is irrelevant; the important thing is that you've put yourself firmly in a situation that (hopefully) engenders little stress and chaos, and is by contrast low-stress and relaxing.

The best part about friends (especially friends who are not business majors and don't know your group members personally) is that they can serve as a sounding board, which leads to the next item:

3. Let it All Out

Whether it's a journal/diary, your mom, a therapist, your best friend, or your blankie/teddy bear, rant and rave at someone about any and all issues you're facing. Bottling it up is not the answer, and may actually do more harm than good. Would you rather complain at your mother, or snap at a group member? Trust me, the former is far more palatable.

Getting the words out or down on paper is the best thing you can do for yourself. For one, you can work through whatever emotions you're having about/regarding the group, and you can work off the excess energy that being stressed is causing. Being upset requires a certain amount of animation; allowing yourself to shout it out, to write until your hand cramps, or shake your teddy until your arms hurt will give you the outlet that you need so that you can not only rest easy, but also feel less burdened by your problems. Good friends -- and parents -- will listen with a sympathetic ear, but will also understand that their role isn't necessarily to offer advice, unless so solicited. Either way, getting your feelings put out in a public sphere (hopefully such that it won't get back to your group members) will alleviate the worst of the tension.

Frankly, this is really a precursor to you GETTING SOME REST. Oftentimes stressful situations have robbed us of precious sleep, leaving us deficient and less prepared to make good judgments. Tiring yourself out -- and getting your racing thoughts out of your head -- will help you rest better with the fewer hours you likely have.

As a bonus, I'm going to include one more tip:

Own Up to Your Mistakes

Look, we all have trouble keeping our cool when the deadline is mere hours away. Stress (and lack of sleep, so often hand-in-hand) make us more likely to have hair-trigger tempers and less cautious about what we say and to whom we say it. As such, when you make a gaffe, own up to it and apologize to the injured party later. Even if they don't apologize to you, it is important to do this for two reasons: (1) you need to demonstrate for yourself -- and them -- that you recognize that your behavior was unacceptable in any other situation, and (2) it is the right thing to do. No one deserves to be shouted at, and no one deserves to receive your wrath. I don't care how much they've botched over the course of the project; shouting at someone, especially in front of your colleagues, is unacceptable, and apologizing is the best course of action, period.

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