July 24, 2021
This week in my virtual study abroad program was midterms. Needless to say, it was a busy and academically heavy week. Between the usual assignments, studying, and taking my tests my week quickly became overwhelming. As I was navigating through the week, I found myself feeling very stressed. My stress doesn’t overwhelm me emotionally so much as it physically exhausts me. I have always been able to tell that I am under stress when I have trouble sleeping at night and find my energy crashing dramatically during the day.
Before COVID-19 and the lock down, I was pretty good at managing my stress. I found that particularly busy weeks motivated me to manage my time better and focus harder. The key was always to recognize that I had a stressful day/week ahead of me and work from there to make it as manageable as possible. I always gave myself something to look forward to as well. At the end of a hard week I would plan time to go out with friends and enjoy myself or time to relax by myself. This system of working hard and rewarding myself always seem to get me through even the hardest of weeks.
As I began this week and started to notice my energy levels were very low, I chalked it up to early class. I went through the first half of the week struggling to find the motivation to get anything done. And for the first time in as long as I can remember, I felt the emotional toll of stress. When I realized what I was feeling I asked myself why I hadn’t been able to recognize it sooner and employ my usual method to manage stressful weeks.
After thinking about it for some time, I realized that COVID-19 and the circumstances that have arisen because of it have altered the things I use to manage my stress. The simple fact that classes are online and I have the same scenery around me all the time makes it harder to motivate myself. Although sitting in my room on my computer is getting things done, without the physical actions of moving from place to place I struggle to feel the accomplishment of a productive day. With most of my friends in their home states, it is hard to reward myself with social interaction. The two essential things I used to get through my stressful times have been altered.
Although I initially felt the need to blame the pandemic (as many of us have reasonably done in the past 18 months) for my overwhelmed feelings, I realized I had an opportunity. Freshman year of college I created my stress management system that carried me through most of my undergraduate career. The pandemic changed my academic circumstances and so I had to change my method of stress management. I decided to complete homework, work, and personal things in different rooms of my house to feel the physical movement that helped motivate me in person. I found one reason every day last week to get out of my house. Whether it was to go run an errand or check on my new house for graduate school. And at the end of the week I rewarded myself by sitting by myself, with a comforting movie, and my favorite dessert.
While this new method isn’t the ideal compared to the system I had already worked out, I am proud to say that I adapted to the circumstances. Going into graduate school I have no idea if my stress management system, study habits, or time management habits are going to hold up. This week helped me realize that I need to pay attention to my body’s response and my emotions closely to find what works best for me. I need to be willing to change and adapt to new situations to be a successful graduate student. And I am happy to say that my first adaptation, while small, resulted in great success on my midterms.