I used to take pride in my stress level.
I used to believe that my long, extravagant to-do lists and full schedule of extracurriculars were signs of success, and the fact that I could barely sleep at night and felt on edge during the day were simply signs that I cared. That I wanted everything I did to be perfect.
This is how I lived for most of my college years, especially when I started to get heavily involved with the student newspaper. I put on a lot of weight, snapped at the people I loved, and had professors and co-workers seriously questioning my ability to handle my anxiety (for real).
It wasn’t until a fellow editor and friend sent me home early from the newsroom one day (to de-stress, essentially) that I realized my stress was all consuming, and instead of helping me perfect what I did, my inability to manage it was negatively affecting my work and my relationships.
I’ve learned to relax a little since then, to not take on projects and jobs unless I have the time (and it’s something I truly want to do, not something I feel obligated to do). I’ve learned that exercising and eating right are just as important as completing assignments on deadline and worth carving out time for in my day. But mostly I have learned that while achieving goals is fulfilling, no measure of success is more important than my health or spending time with the people I love. (Cheesy, but true).
I still worry about small things, that I admit probably don’t matter in the long run. I still like to be prepared and organized, and can’t function well without my planner, but I don’t lose sleep over the fact that a source hasn’t called me back or that I haven’t completed every single task I wanted to do that day. I understand now that if one thing falls through, everything else will (likely) still be OKAY. But it took me a while, and a lot of self reflection to get here.
A few weeks ago I saw a documentary from National Geographic called Killer Stress, and I was immediately intrigued. The film looks at stress in other species and compares it to human stress. According to the film, stress used to be a reaction to life threatening situations, but today most Americans live in a constant state of stress. A human coping mechanism has now become a switch we can’t turn off.