Getting Overwhelmed? Choose Not to Be.
First year is a weird time of your life. You’re probably stoked to be in rez, enjoying independence and freedom finally being away from home, or just in general loving the University life of friends, fun, and discovery. But soon after that first week, the realization comes that it ain’t gonna be a walk in the park.
Man, I remember thinking to myself after even just a few classes, there is a lot to do! I reflected with one guy as we left our second Physics lecture, and we both couldn’t believe how much more there was to do (and how short a time we had to do it) compared to high school. The pressure was mounting, and I really had no idea what to do or where to start. Then came a pivotal conversation with a friend over MSN (hopefully you’re all old enough to know what that is…)
My buddy had started University the year before and had gone through everything I had. He was sympathizing with (and laughing at) me as he reflected on his previous year. At one point (probably for the 5th time) I said “Man, I can’t get over how much work this is! I’m kinda nervous…” and he quickly retorted “don’t worry man, just do the work and it’ll get done. Stop worrying, start studying!”
I kinda felt dumb after he said it. I had spent so much time thinking about having to do so much, being worried about it, and then complaining about it that I hadn’t even started to get anything done. It became obvious that worrying wasn’t going to help me at all.
What does it mean?
One thing I love about my friend’s helpful words is that they were simple. “Stop worrying, start studying” – STOP doing the unhelpful thing, START doing what you need to do. In my remaining three years in University, until that very last final, this would be a go-to mantra of mine as I felt stress and worry mounting outside the door of my mind.
Behind the simple phrase is the truth that worrying just doesn’t help me in any way. As an ancient carpenter and religious founder is famous for saying, “…you cannot add an hour to your life by worrying…” If that’s true, why bother worrying? Just get to the task at hand!
80% Internal, 20% External
You don’t have to look too far to find research that shows the nasty effects stress can have on you physically, mentally, etc. And if it’s true that stress is 80% internal and only 20% external(as a mental health doctor told me last year), we only have ourselves to blame if we find ourselves stressing out and consumed with worry.
The “Stop worrying, start ______” mentality helps us here. If we choose to have a correct view of things, we can stop telling ourselves lies about potential consequences, embrace obstacles as challenges (instead of potential stressors), and in the end be healthier and more mentally prepared for it. Joe can focus and work hard on the tasks at hand without being consumed with “what-ifs”. He can move on if he doesn’t get the mark he really wanted.
If you find yourself worrying or stressing out over your tests or assignments (or whatever), take a minute and run through the following exercise:
1. STOP WORRYING
Note that this is an active exercise. You need to actually stop yourself from worrying. Don’t let your mind wander to the potential consequences, the “what-ifs” or the like. Note also that you do have this power. One of the lies that only makes things worse is that you have no say over whether or not you worry.
2. Reflect and ask yourself why you are worried or stressed.
If you are an external processor, you may find it helpful to write things out or talk things through to yourself or a friend. Whatever you do, get the thoughts that feed the worries out there – “I’ll fail my test and drop out of school!” could be one of them. Don’t start the thinking about correcting the thoughts yet – just be honest and get them out there.
3. Correct yourself on what is true about potential consequences, etc.
Now is the time: Defeat the lies! You probably realized as you wrote things down or talked them through how silly some of your thoughts were. So now go back and write out why those thoughts are silly, and replace them with what is true and reasonable. If you had rational thoughts, that’s ok! Just make sure that the beginnings of those rational thoughts aren’t stretching into ridiculousness (e.g. “I could fail my test” is very rational if you haven’t studied and it starts in 2 hours. But sometimes a deeper belief sprouts from this and once again we think that a failed test or course is the end of the world).
4. Psych yourself back up!
Pump yourself full of the truth discussed above and visualize yourself taking on whatever challenge you face. Feel free to quote your favourite movie/TV moments to get yourself back in the game. See below for one of my personal favourites.
5. START STUDYING (in our case)
You can only sit and think (or write, or talk) about the internal stuff for so long. Once you actually consummate your thinking with action you’ll solidify things in your mind and ready yourself for fighting off worry in the future. Now get in there and get the job done!
If you practise this little mental exercise, you’ll both get better at it and find it more natural as time goes on.
At the end of the day, Joe has a choice. He can see the assignments, tests, projects, or really whatever obstacles he faces in life as either stresses to endure or challenges to overcome.
What will you choose?Why do we fall Master Wayne? — So we can learn to pick ourselves back up! [Batman Begins, 2006]