How would you advise someone to deal with stress if they are on a very tight schedule and can’t really go on walks and breaks?

A student asked:

Is it possible to feel sudden surges of stress? How would you advise someone to deal with it if they are on a very tight schedule and can’t really go on walks and breaks?

Yes, it’s very possible to feel sudden surges of stress. I get it too from time to time.

My advice is to stop telling yourself that you can’t go on walks and breaks. This is actually why you feel stressed. It’s not just that you have work to complete, but you also feel a certain helplessness, like you have no control over your life to decide when you can rest. But the truth is, you need the rest, and you do have control. You just have to go for breaks/rest even if you feel guilty about it.

I used to feel guilty about taking breaks when I was an undergraduate. But look what it did to me? I went to the hospital thrice in my final year. Not fun at all. In the end, I realised I could still get the work done and on time even after taking breaks and sleeping at proper hours. So it’s not necessarily true that you’re more productive if you spend more hours working.

The more exhausted you are, the less productive you’ll be, and then you’ll feel more stressed because you’ll find yourself in a situation where you just can’t meet deadlines no matter how much you force yourself. It’s a vicious cycle.

Rest is essential to productivity. Stress is a sign from your body that you need to take a break – mental and physical break – so that your body can recover from work so that you can return with a fresh mind to be more productive.

We live in a time where our culture promotes a lot of unhealthy stress-coping habits, like eating junk food, or compulsive online shopping, etc. As much as possible, such things to cope with stress. It’s not healthy. I’m saying this as someone who unfortunately succumbs to this regularly because of stress (it’s something I’m trying to get out of). It’s better in the long term to have healthier habits like exercise and sleep to recover than to cope with stress through food and consumerism.

Remember: We work to survive and to enjoy our lives. So it becomes quite pointless if you end up working so hard that you undermine your own survival and quality of life in the long-term by sabotaging your health. All that money you worked so hard for will end up being spent on medical bills, or worse… There’s no sense in that.

So please force yourself to take breaks, go out with friends, enjoy a good meal and/or a good walk. Do stuff that doesn’t involve staring at a screen. The least you can do is to schedule your breaks for each day so you don’t feel so bad about it. Take care!

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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