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!

I’m pretty stressed out by my studies, and I feel so conflicted because I don’t want to burden people by saying that I’m not free. What should I do?

A student wrote to me with this question:

I’m pretty stressed this semester and I feel that I can’t tell anyone or vent to anyone about it since everyone’s really stressed. I also feel like I’m invalidating my feelings by comparing my level of stress with others and seeing how they need to go to school everyday, etc. So I just keep telling myself I’m doing alright. But I’m really just stressed. And because I don’t like to share this kind of thing with my friends, people think I’m really free. I feel so conflicted because I am also a people pleaser and I don’t want to burden people by saying I’m not free because of my assignments. What should I do?

I want you to know that it’s ok to feel stressed and it’s ok to share with others that you are stressed. I believe everyone’s feeling very stressed at the moment, so you’re not alone. :)

I will say that in our culture today, we focus so much on the importance of helping our friends. But we forget to emphasise that it’s just as important to open up opportunities for our friends to help us if and when they want to. To deprive them of such opportunities is to deprive our friends a chance to show they care.

Imagine this scenario where you have a friend whom you care about so much. If one day you found that your friend didn’t share her problems with you, how would you feel? You’d feel rather upset, won’t you?

It can feel like that friend didn’t trust you enough or didn’t consider you close enough to confide in you. Similarly, other people — those friends who do care about us — will feel that way too if they learnt that we don’t share our lives with them in such a way.

This is not a case of airing dirty laundry. To air dirty laundry is to tell the general public about your problems. But with friends, things are different. We confide in them. And if you feel bad about burdening them, you can at least tell them that you want a listening ear, and not a solution. That’s important.

I think one of the important life skills is learning how to say “no,” to people and not feel guilty about it. I’m not sure what kind of things your friends are asking you to do, but it is very important to learn to communicate honestly with them. Because if we can’t be honest with our friends about things like this, and if we can’t trust that our friends will stay close to us even if we turn them down, then it’s a sign that we’re not maintaining the quality of the friendship well.

Unless we learn to be honest with them, and unless we learn how to maintain the friendship even after saying no to their requests from time to time, that friendship will remain at a very superficial level.

Do take care of yourself. Sleep early and drink plenty of water. These will help you cope a little better with the stress.