Last Monday, I had lunch with a close friend, and we were catching up about our week. We chatted about everything and nothing, just enjoying being out of the house. After I spent about five minutes going over my latest stresses of the week, he finally turned and asked: “Isn’t it weird that even with all the stress going on in our lives, on top of that we’re living through a pandemic on the side?’. I laughed off his question, because it seemed absolutely too deep for a Monday afternoon, but later I played it over in my mind. Even with all the stress of beginning my honours years and all the hefty deadlines, remembering to bring a mask is just as important as remembering my keys.
I’m usually a very stressed person to begin with. My day planned out down to the minute, waking at the crack of dawn, I’ve been told my blood pressure actively raises the blood pressure of others. While attending office hours this semester, I was listing my questions about an essay due the next week, and my tutor abruptly stopped my rambling. She reminded me I needed to take a step back and remember that this was just an essay. Under normal circumstances, her advice would have gone straight over my head. I would have nodded but wouldn’t have listened, and after I would have thrown myself further into my pit of work. However, this time, it actually resonated with me.
During lockdown, I was dealing with a fair amount of my own medical stress. Four doctor’s appointments over the phone led to numerous attempted general solutions of prescribing me medication that wouldn’t fix the problem, then the process would start all over again. Eventually, my local doctor held up his hands and declared it a mystery, in defeat referring me to another practise. I struggled with constant worry looming in the back of my mind, just adding to the stress of everything else. The vibe really worked well with my constant mood of listening to Taylor Swift’s new album with a glass of wine in hand.
So, when my tutor encouraged me to take a step back and remember that it truly was just an essay, it really put everything into perspective. She reminded me that focusing on the bigger picture sometimes proves far more important than stressing about which style of citations to use or which font size would be better. I was remined that the world is far greater than the stress which lines the surface of our lives. Meanwhile, at lunch with my friend, as he asked me to contemplate how strange it seems that our normal day-to-day stress remains just as prevalent while the globe battles a devastating pandemic, I realised I needed to take time for myself every once and a while. Taking a moment here and there to appreciate the bigger things in life rather than worry about the smaller things I can’t change might even help reduce the stress I normally feel.
Please note, I would like to clarify that I’m not usually a completely cheesy person, and definitely not someone who willingly gives self-help advice, but everyone dealing with the same mantle of stress right now. Returning students adjusting to the changes that Covid-19 forced on us and first years experiencing this pseudo-uni environment alike are all feeling the same overarching distress. This is abnormal for everyone: we don’t see our friends as much, there isn’t the fun of a Friday night at the Union, and quite frankly booking a spot at the library or meeting someone for coffee is seen as a job well done for the day (I applaud myself when I manage to leave the house for a fun outing). Now more than ever, it’s crucial to take that little bit of time for ourselves. Last night, my flatmate and I took a midnight walk around town. There were no distractions, no feeling like I should be focussed on something else, it was just calm and soothing.
Also, I recommend taking the time to laugh at the stupidly embarrassing things you do in a day: for instance, telling a guy the reason I was holding a coffee cup for 2 hours while we walked around was that it went with my outfit or while I was back home bumping into my neighbour (who happened star on the fourth season of the Great British Bake Off) and asking him “Oh I didn’t realise you baked?”. P.S. these are just the tip of the iceberg of embarrassing stories, so if you’re interested in more please let me know.
In all seriousness, my point is that I want to be able to step back and laugh at myself and make the most of living through a pandemic of all things. I doubt that there’s anything I can actually do to completely change how stressed I become about everything. I’m still going to be planning ahead and worrying about things I can’t change, wondering which deadline will come tunnelling around the corner, but everyone else is worrying about these things too. I will however take moments to listen and realise I can take a step back every once and a while. I can appreciate the litte things around me, realise that taking an hour away from my readings when the stress gets too much isn’t going to hinder me but will most likely give me a new and better perspective.