Everyone pushes themselves to the limit during finals, and I’m no exception. I happened to get bronchitis this year as sort of an added bonus. I scheduled my flight home for a few hours after my last final. After taking that final, I threw some clothes into a suitcase, dragged myself to the airport, through security, up to my gate and collapsed in a heap. At home I slept almost endlessly and tried to keep my cough under control so my parents wouldn’t worry about me lapsing into pneumonia.
But here’s the thing. After a few days of recovery, I felt an inexplicable sense of missing something — something more than the excessive caffeine I had been used to during finals (which my splitting headaches from withdrawal reminded me of). I missed having deadlines looming and a long list of things to do that I could check off with a sense of accomplishment. Relaxing was great, but where was the adrenaline rush from my usual caffeine-fueled intensity?
There are a million suggestions on how to cope with stress. But I think using stress as a coping mechanism is just as valid. There’s a reason for procrastination. If you leave yourself the bare minimum of time to complete a project, you suddenly become incredibly productive. And I’ll admit it, there’s a maniacal thrill in achieving the seemingly impossible, even if it takes all night and seven cups of coffee.
It sounds dramatic, but I know I’m not the only one addicted to stress. I think a lot of us are guilty of that at Penn, where we’re known for working hard and playing hard. Doing anything hard (especially working and playing) requires some time to refuel, but we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking we can get by without it. Psh, we’re harder, better, faster, stronger than that … right?
After my bronchitis/fatigue-induced coma, I’m not so sure. I couldn’t believe how much I slept those first few days after getting home. Life at Penn is highly conducive to minimizing sleep and maximizing studying and socializing because everyone does, but it can’t be healthy to live like that. It can’t be normal to hear people comparing workloads as if it’s a good thing to be the most stressed out: “You have two finals tomorrow? Oh, that’s rough but I have two tomorrow and two the next day … and it’s my best friend’s birthday tonight.” It’s like an unspoken competition in which people try to convince themselves that normal workloads are for the weak.
Since the New Year is a time to give up addictions, I’m attempting to give up my addiction to stress by actually not making any resolutions. Why say I’ll go to the gym three times a week when I a) probably won’t and b) don’t need another commitment in my life?
Being super busy is great, but it’s not worth the exhaustion that comes with it. If there’s one thing I learned in 2009, it’s that “doing it all” is not all it’s cracked up to be. Using stress to get more done is effective, but more often than not it just makes life unpleasantly overwhelming.
Don’t worry, I’m not totally giving up on a Type-A lifestyle. Even if I’m trying not to be addicted to stress, I can still occasionally enjoy the intense productivity it affords. Only in 2010, I’m going to use stress in moderation. Maybe I’ll scale back those all-nighters to make them more of an indulgence than a chronic habit. I’ll keep my list of things to do, but add some requisite 15-minute breaks. It might be cheating, but I can still cross them off as accomplishments.
So while everyone else struggles with their newfound commitment to Pottruck, I’ll hopefully be doing a little less. The challenge isn’t finding the time to relax — it’s convincing yourself that doing so is ok, and maybe even normal. Katherine rea is a College junior from Saratoga, Calif. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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