With upcoming academic milestones, children’s birthday parties, trips to conferences, and the usual daily grind, I have been feeling a lot of stress lately. This became evident to me on the day I served Eggo waffles for dinner. At the time, I thought, “I just need to feed everyone and I don’t have time to think about what to serve for dinner”. If you know me, you know that this is a complete shift in personality. I am the woman who shops at local food co-operatives, buys organic whenever possible, and thinks about what I feed my family and where it came from. I enjoy making healthy and satisfying meals for my family and myself and I take pride in knowing where my food comes from. At the time, serving Eggo waffles didn’t seem like a big deal and it isn’t – my family can survive one day eating a suboptimal meal. But as time passed, I noticed small sacrifices like this in other facets of my life and wondered if my inability to effectively manage stress was causing me to give up on things that are part of my identity.
This is when turned to Google. I searched for tips to reduce stress and came across the usual suspects:
- Work off your stress with exercise such as jogging or yoga
- Set realistic goals
- Get enough sleep
These were all great ideas, but I knew deep down that these tips wouldn’t necessarily solve my root problem. Missing a yoga class I had scheduled to try to decrease my stress would likely do just the opposite – add more guilt and stress to my life. I had to decrease my own stress. I had to learn to say no to things when my plate was full.
Upon this realization, I began to think about my students. Many students have a lot of things going on in their lives in addition to their course work. Even if a student is stressed, there are many instances in which students do not have the opportunity to say no. Deadlines come and go, and students do their best to keep up. I did this as a student, and I always thought it was ok to make sacrifices because “one day” I would be done school and I could do what I want to do then. That is when I would enjoy my life more, once “this” stress was over.
I was naïve. “One day” never comes, because when one stress is over, another stress begins. I realized that giving my students advice in the form of ideas they can use to manage their stress may not be effective enough. By giving my students a list of things they can do to mitigate stress, I was making stress seem abnormal and using the tips would mean admitting to feeling this “abnormal” sentiment.
With this in mind, I decided that one of the most important things I can do for my students is to give them permission to feel stress. Stress is something that tells our bodies and mind that we have taken on too much, that we need to slow down, that we need to rest. A list of ideas to manage this feeling can seem like I am minimizing or trivializing this perfectly normal feeling.
I want my students to know that stress is normal. I want to tell my students that no matter what they accomplish and achieve, if they realize these goals but sacrifice their identity to do so, it may not be worth it. This is your life – all of the things that fill up your day, even the stressful things, are a part of your life. Each day is a day you only live once. Decreasing stress may involve prioritizing events and responsibilities – easier said than done. I hope that by emphasizing that stress is a normal feeling, students will more readily admit to feeling stress and hopefully through this admission, take action to manage their stress. I hope by giving students permission to pay attention to their mind, body, and mental well being, I can help them avoid their own personal Eggo waffle scenarios and enjoy living life fully each day, even during stressful times.