I know I’m not alone when I say this past semester has been very stressful, especially for those of us who endured yet another completely online school format. Personally, though, it goes beyond the usual “I’m so tired” or “I’m so done” sentiments. On top of being a full-time student, a part-time worker, and new Co-Senior Editor for HCCLU, this semester I’ve been involved in the AmeriCorps Fellowship at Cal Lutheran, which entails working in underserved communities.
As rewarding as being so involved in the school and community has been, it’s been exhausting too. From the very beginning of the semester, I’ve been expected to complete 20 hours of virtual work for my fellowship and attend 12 hours of synchronous zoom classes per week, not including hours spent working part-time, doing homework, and fulfilling other duties. You can imagine how little time I’ve had to take a break – my average weekday is spent on Zoom from 11 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Despite all the time and energy spent, though, I’ve learned a lot from having to balance so much, and I’m not just talking about time management. I should hope none of you will have to multitask and experience as much overwhelming stress as I’ve had this past semester, but these are just a few lessons I’ve learned, which you can apply to any stage of life.
1.) Sometimes You Have to Say No
It’s more than okay to say no, but sometimes you might be left with no choice, and that can be a difficult realization. I had to learn this the hard way as my busy schedule made it difficult to make time for a lot of things. Sometimes a zoom meeting would conflict with a virtual workshop or presentation I wanted to attend. Other times I’d have to turn down virtual game nights or movie nights with friends because I’d have too much homework to catch up on. I’d even eat lunch or dinner alone in my room some nights because I’d have meetings for hours without a break at all.
One big thing I had to say no to for my own well-being was my part-time job at Jamba Juice. As much as I enjoyed interacting with people and spending time outside of home (not to mention getting paid), two months of spending every weekday on Zoom and every weekend at work was both physically and mentally taxing. I ended up quitting at Jamba Juice because I realized that the time I spent working could be better used studying and catching up on homework, not to mention the fact that my fellowship is practically a full-time job on its own. Saying no to things in life – be they big or small – can be difficult, but it’s nothing to be afraid or ashamed of if it feels like the right thing to do.
2.) Mental Health Comes First, Always
I think everyone, no matter their past and present experiences, could benefit from practicing self-care and taking some time to self-reflect. There are so many things that can impact our well-being and the most important yet difficult thing is recognizing the sources of our stress. One thing that helped me understand the ways I handle (or mishandle) myself in stressful situations was by going to therapy. Cal Lutheran students are fortunate to receive eight sessions per academic year, so why not take advantage of it?
After all, therapy can be beneficial to anyone no matter your struggles and can even offer you a new, healthier perspective of life. So far, one thing therapy has personally helped me understand is that my empathetic temperament is so strong that oftentimes I’ll absorb other people’s stress and/or emotions without even realizing it. It got so intense that after a month of experiencing random feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, I realized it came from a close friend of mine. Although he meant well, by constantly coming to me for support and sharing his difficult experiences with me, it only added to the stress I was feeling. Of course, I want to help people out, but it’s difficult to do that when you’re hanging on by a thread, and similar to learning to say no, I had to learn that boundaries sometimes need to be created for the sake of your own well-being.
3.) Ultimately, You Shape Your Experience
It may go without saying, but at the end of the day, you are the one person who makes the greatest impact in your life. What you do today can shape the way you live tomorrow, which is why self-care is so important. As difficult as it can be to take a break when there are so many responsibilities demanding your attention, self-care can make all the difference during a stressful time.
Of course, your semester may not have been as jam-packed as mine, but I’m sure we’ve all been struggling to balance online classes and our personal lives, among other things. Whatever your current and future experiences, I hope you keep these tips in mind as they’ve certainly helped me survive the most stressful time of my life (as of now). And no matter where life takes you, through the good and bad, there is always room to make it a great experience.