When Stress Becomes Life

Returning home from university, I thought I would finally be able to relax. All of finals week I was a bundle of nervous productive energy writing papers, preparing presentations, and working myself into the ground to the point where I woke up with a sinus infection and mild flu. Having finished the semester strong, it was a relief to pack up my clothes for winter break and make the journey home where I thought I could finally catch up on some sleep. I was never more wrong. Sleep, it seemed, was never in the cards.

“A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety. “ – Aesop

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Instead of winding down, I was more keyed up than ever. The anxiety was never higher as I struggled to juggle working, spending time with the family (other than at intense events like my sister’s basketball games which demanded a different anxiety), finishing up presents, writing, and planning schedules so that everyone could be where they needed to be and do what they had to do. This left me little time for myself, and for my friends of whom I hadn’t seen in weeks and with which I was desperate to catch up.

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Waking up before the sun and having a coffee became the most relaxing part of the day. The early morning was devoted to driving people to work because we now have four drivers and three cars and running quick errands to pick up supplies for presents. The rest of the day consisted of various work: either creating presents, wrapping presents, or going into the bookstore and helping people find and buy others’ Christmas presents.

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” — Chinese Proverb

Soon the texts for plans were coming in from some old high school friends, and soon my work schedule prevented me from attending. It also began to consume my days. I’d stopped running and devoted the late hours of the night to write. The constant stress from work and from fulfilling familial obligations began to take its toll on me. I was always tired, my cold was not going away, and I was losing energy exponentially.

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I found myself wishing for the stress of papers and presentations and the school environment that had become stagnant and stifling in the wake of the semester’s commencement, because at least then I would at least have some time to spare on something I enjoy.

I became someone who was trying to please and do everything I could for others; which isn’t a bad thing (all the time), but it leaves little room for mental stability. The anxiety was all-consuming, arriving in droves until it became a persistent pressure on my mind that demanded constant attention and control or it would overflow and ruin the careful structure I’d concocted through my chaotic life. Refusing to acknowledge that I was overwhelmed, I attempted to do everything I was given and do it well: I was cheerful at work, I put all the heart and soul I could muster into presents, I sacrificed free time for those who needed it more, and I never stopped to let myself think that in my desperate need for control, I wasn’t taking care of myself.

All too easily life became stress. I wasn’t enjoying the very season that I cherished above all others for its emphasis on happiness, kindness, and positivity. Instead, I gave into the tiredness, the perfectionism, and negativity. And, I most certainly didn’t feel like I was on a “break.” A reality check was much needed, which didn’t come until I finally had a day off.

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Although I didn’t get to sleep in, I was able to go shopping, spend time with the people I love, relax on the sofa, and actually have a family dinner. The stress continued in the days after, but at least I got a little reprieve. It made me realize that being busy, although you always have something to do, is not it’s cracked up to be and becomes exhausting all-too quickly.

The holidays are over and I’m realizing that even though the pressure to buy the right gifts and see loved ones is over, the stress still remains, finding other avenues. The “To Do List” I have on my phone is still accumulating tasks—both long-term and day-to-day. So stress still persists and I’m still trying to manage it. But, to fully do that, I would need more time.

No, there aren’t enough hours in the day for everything (even sleep sometimes), but there are enough moments that you can take to relax, and I’m still learning how to do that.

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