Stress. A little nasty thing that is. Once it gets stuck into our minds, it is really difficult to get rid of it. We cannot sleep. We don’t want to sleep. We stay up late. We try to do work. We try to do more than one thing at a time. We get more stressed. How long until the red light starts beeping and we really realise enough is enough?
Life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. For some of us this has caused stress to become a way of life. And I’m not saying stress is always a bad thing. Personally I often deliver the best results when working under pressure. But as much as I love challenges and as much as challenges sustain my life more than anything, even I have some limits as to how much I can cope with before I break down.
So what is it that causes stress and how can we try to manage it? I don’t know. I am still trying to figure that out. But don’t go just yet, because I do have some tips and ideas which have helped me at least during some of the most stressful periods in my life.
For me, the biggest cause of stress has been lack of time. Or having too many things on at the same time, which is practically the same thing. And whilst there are other causes of stress, such as unhealthy lifestyle, conflicts at the workplace/home, major life changes, financial difficulties etc, I will concentrate on lack of time as this is the one I can best relate to myself at the moment.
Being a final year law student is difficult. Challenging. Demanding. Trying to juggle work, dissertation, training contract applications, and other commitments isn’t exactly the incredible year I was hoping this would be. And I am sure I will think differently once it is over and once I get to bear the fruit of my hard work. I just sometimes wonder how long until smoke starts coming out of my brain. Whilst unfortunately we cannot manage time, we can manage ourselves in order to achieve our personal and professional objectives with less frustration and stress. The following small things have helped me achieve this to some extent at least:
1. Get organised
I know this sounds easier said than done, but the reality is it really helps. Whether this means tidying up your desk, using a filing system, using a diary or just making a daily to-do list – it really does save your time of trying to find pieces of paper or trying to find out when your next deadline is. It also reduces stress. This of course depends on what kind of person you are and what works best for you.
Personally, over the last few months, I’ve had sheets of paper, articles, highlighters and books all over the place when I was writing my first dissertation draft. For some reason this helped me concentrate better. As well as sitting on the floor whilst working surrounded by all the pieces of paper. I know this sounds ridiculous – you should have seen what a funny/miserable picture I was. What saved me was my highlighting system. I really wouldn’t have been able to find my way around articles I’ve read was it not for the different highlighters I used for different things.
Another thing that saved me was my diary. There is no way on earth I would have been able to remember all of my deadlines or commitments was it not for my diary!
2. Be conscious of time
I know this is an obvious one but really do make sure you keep an eye on the date and time. Sometimes I get so self-absorbed in my work that I completely lose track of what day or date it is, let alone the hour. Being conscious of time and how long exactly you have until your next deadline can really help you avoid some last-minute panic attacks!
Know your priorities. Use categories for each task and create a list based on those categories. Some things should certainly come to the top of your list because of their importance, whilst others can be chucked right to the bottom. I usually use four categories –
- High importance, high urgency – This is something which needs to be done quite quickly and has a long-term impact on my work. It is usually quite time-consuming. I would try to dedicate the required time to such a task free from other distractions if possible. I would usually deal with less important urgent tasks first;
- High importance, low urgency – This is time-consuming but no immediate output is required. I would usually deal such a task last;
- Low importance, high urgency – This requires speed but should not be too time-consuming. I would usually start with such tasks so that I could quickly tick them off my list;
- Low importance, low urgency – I will usually chuck this one right to the bottom of the list and deal with it when and as I have time.
4. Set realistic deadlines
Whenever you can set your own deadlines, do this realistically. This is very important because it will help you reduce stress and disappointment when you do not manage to deal with a task before your deadline. Make sure you estimate how long the task should take and if possible, give yourself some extra time to be on the safe side. Personally, I often make plans to do too many things in one day and then get extremely stressed when I do not manage to tick them all off my list. I have recently become more aware of how much I can do in a day so I try to set the right limits to avoid disappointment.
5. Concentrate on a limited number of tasks
The thing that causes me the most of stress is having more than one thing to do at once. This happens all too often and whenever it does, thinking of everything else at once can be very distracting. Although I sometimes wish I was a superhuman, I have not as of yet found a way to do more than one important thing at once. Thinking about everything else I have on whilst trying to do one thing only slows me down. I have now learnt to ignore everything else and concentrate on the thing I am doing here and now. Once I have finished it, I can then move on to the next one.
6. Take breaks
I am not the best person to teach you about this because when I am under pressure I often try to work for long hours without taking a break until I have finished my tasks for the day. My sister always tells me that this is counter-productive because the more tired I get the less able I am to concentrate and hence the less work I can do. Whenever I have listened to her and tried to take breaks and do something else, I find it much more easier to concentrate on my work once I return to it. I don’t do that very often though – don’t ask why. If you are a bit less stubborn, maybe you will make a better use of this advice.
7. Don’t be too harsh on yourself
Yet again, whoever knows me will confirm – I am usually extremely harsh on myself. Benefits of this I have found none so far. So don’t do it!
8. Be ruthless with time and gracious with people
Last but not least – stay focused on the task at hand and what you need to do to complete it, including managing your interactions with others. Sometimes life throws things at us that we have to work hard on if we want to succeed. Sometimes that would mean limiting your social interactions. Some people won’t understand you and will stop talking to you after you refuse to go out a couple of times. Maybe it is during stressful times that we get to realise who our real friends are. Whatever you do, never be rude to people. Stress can sometimes cause you to be extremely miserable. But it won’t always be like that and once you achieve your objective and once you are able to breathe again, it will be really nice to have some friends left.
This is it my lovely readers. Managing stress can be really difficult when we realise there aren’t enough hours in the day. Trying some of the tips above might help. The last thing I will advice you is to get some sleep. I spent quite a few sleepless nights over the last few months and to be honest I don’t feel too great right now. Once you lose your night’s sleep, it is really difficult to catch up with it. And believe you me, the less you sleep, the more you get stressed. That’s how the human body works unfortunately….