Managing Stress: Learning from My Mistakes

I am writing this post the day before it will publish. For those who haven’t guessed this about the SNAP Roundtable blog team, we’re planning planners who like to plan. And have posts ready a week in advance. However, I decided this post was relevant and timely, because I am not actually sick. Yet, I am home sick today.

Last night, I sat up and watched the Iowa Caucus results come in, and then I went to bed. I woke up this morning, got dressed, made breakfast (including coffee!), and packed my lunch. And then I walked to the car and immediately fell ill. Without going into the details, I knew immediately that wasn’t going to make it to classes or my internship. So, I went back to the apartment, got a class of water, sent emails off to my professors and supervisor about not coming, and put myself to bed. About an hour later, I realized I felt worse, so I got up to check for fever. Nothing. I sent SNAP emails. I added to the lit review of my masters paper.

As I kept working, I started feeling better, and it was like something with lots of pressure was unknotting itself. I finally recognized that I had done something that hadn’t happened to me since high school: I had let stress make me sick. Well, since I inadvertently gained 10-ish hours of “free time” today, I dedicated some of it to researching stressors for graduate students and information professionals and the best ways to manage it so that you might fare better than I did today.

The stressors on graduate students and working professionals are similar. Stress types are split into two categories, life events (like relocation, marriage, birth of a child, etc.) and chronic events (like financial worry, academic pressures, deadlines at work, etc.). Both students and professionals can experience both types of stress, and life events are going to happen whether or not one is in school. The chronic stressors, too, show similarities and may not be school-only phenomena. Of course graduate students are going to worry about money. Loan amounts can be enormous, part-time jobs might not materialize, a surprise bill can stem from an illness or car repair… Those who have graduated and moved into professional jobs are possibly still paying off loans, and the same kinds of surprise expenses will arise periodically for them. In addition, there may be the worry of job stability. Will the funding for their position be cut? Are they a project archivist? How is the overall economy, and how will it affect the workplace?

While professionals might be done with academic stress (unlike their counterparts still in school), there are still deadlines. Herein, I’m going to admit it: I’m not overwhelmed by school this semester (surprisingly). I’m able to juggle class readings and assignments, my masters paper, my job, and my internship. However, I’m super stressed about a deadline for a volunteer organization I have looming that is crashing in on top of all of the otherwise-manageable stress. I’m one of the judges for a state contest, and all of the materials are coming to me so that I can scan them and upload them to Google Drive before we review them and select winner, and I didn’t realize how big the job of scanning was going to be. “It’s going to be yuuuuuge,” to quote a presidential candidate. This stress would have happened whether or not I was in graduate school, to emphasize the point that deadlines don’t end once school does.

Also, an important consideration is the person’s perception of the situation. What stresses one person out, another may take in stride. For the most part, I am accustomed to high-stress environments, and I think that the stress on this project snuck up on me entirely because of the way others perceive its importance. For the past week, I have received half a dozen calls from folks about this contest, making sure their packets arrived, feeling the need to explain the packets’ contents to me, and more. I should note that the project’s due date is mid-March, which is a ways off. However, because I let other folks’ opinions and worry about this contest permeate my routine, this caused me to stress more about scanning the materials than I otherwise would have on my own.

Ideally, we can manage our stress in a manner that keeps us from making ourselves ill. What could I have done to prevent today’s events? Knowing the route causes is a good first step. It actually didn’t hit me until mid-morning what my problem was. I had just gone along, trying to minimally process the files as they came in, checking off the chapter and making a note of the envelope’s general contents. (Like MPLP for non-archival things!) It’s kind of hard when it sneaks up on you, but avoiding procrastination with time management will help. Perhaps I could be scanning these documents a little each night…

Further, there are a lot of perfectionists in our field. Learning what to do “well enough” and what actually needs to be done well can be tricky, but it’s necessary. Create a priority list and follow it. Here’s mine: 1) masters paper, 2) deadlines on the marketing plan for my internship, 3) projects at work (only this low because the deadlines are flexible), 4) class assignments, 5) the scanning project for the contest, 6) poster and panel presentations for a conference in March. Really, there are some things I’ve lumped into one, like specific assignments for the different classes, and there are things I should add to the list, but this quick overview was great at helping me realize that yes, the scanning project needs to happen, but it’s not as big of a deal as the rest of my life. I will get to it – and should knock out a good chunk this weekend – but the things I had prioritized naturally above it were done so correctly. Also, this contest does not require the digital copies. We’re using it because our committee couldn’t find a time to meet in person, so we’re reviewing the documents digitally. I do not have to worry about editing, adding metadata, OCR, or any of the other things that I would do if I were actually digitizing a collection. The winning entries have to have the physical copies mailed to the regional judges. This is clearly a “good enough” project, and I need to prevent outside influences from allowing me to think otherwise. It may seem elementary that putting it “down on paper” helped me, but sometimes visualizing it is necessary.

Another point that must be included here is the importance of self-care. As one article put it, everyone knows that proper diet, sleep, and exercise are necessary to remain healthy. That’s certainly true, but sometimes, that’s easier said that done! Further, those who are stressed are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors. To combat this, committing to a routine will help make better choices throughout the day. Having a network of support will also help in this regard, plus it has the added benefit of social interaction, which further helps relieve stress. I’m lucky in that during the day, I had three classmates check on me because I wasn’t in class today. Of course, the network of classmates has developed over time. I’m in my second year of a two-year program. When I move (or even if I end up staying in the area to work), my network will change. Here, Lesley Looper has started the Triangle Librarians’ Meetup group, which is a great idea. If you’re not ready to be the catalyst for something similar, think of a hobby you have and see if there aren’t established groups in the area that you can join. Your officemates might become your network. Whatever it is, being around people is beneficial to combating stress. Also, WebMD has an entire section of its website dedicated to managing stress.

Finally, learn to say no. I am disastrously bad at this one, and for years, I’ve laughed off that this was my biggest weakness. It is, and I know that it is, and what’s worse is that even though I’ve known it for years, I’ve done nothing to change it. Ironically, part of the name of this post is about learning from my mistakes. Why haven’t I done that? It’s hard to say no, especially when not saying no will mean a great opportunity. On the other hand, it may drive you crazy. Of course, then there’s the worry of disappointing people. Again, looking on the other hand, doing the task poorly is worse than not doing it in many regards, and really, are you the only one who can complete said task? Probably not. Will it not get done if you don’t do it? Possibly, so how important is the task? Should it be a higher priority, and can something else be dropped – or at least reduced in its priority level or treated as a “good enough” situation? I am going to be a work in progress here, but in the spirit of this post, y’all ask me periodically how I’m doing with this issue, please!

Stress happens. It’s going to keep happening, so managing it is the only viable option (unless you like making yourself sick). Hopefully, through prioritization of tasks, good time management, healthy life choices, a network of support, and a realization for when you’re overloading yourself, you’ll be able to tackle stress like a champ.


Sources:

Bunge, C. (1989). Stress in the Library Workplace. Library Trends, 38(1): 92-102. Retrieved from https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/7642/librarytrendsv38i1k_opt.pdf?sequence=1

Ollendorf, M. (1990). How Much Do Librarians Know About Stress Management? Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 8(1-2): 67-98. DOI: 10.1300/J103v08n01_05

Oswalt, S. B., & Riddock, C. C. (2007). What to do about being overwhelmed: Graduate students, stress and university services. College Student Affairs Journal, 27(1), 24-44. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ899402.pdf

Spencer, R.M. (2013). Taking Care of Yourself: Stress and the Librarian. Community & Junior College Libraries 19(1-2): 11-20. DOI: 10.1080/02763915.2014.894862

University Health Services. Dealing with Stress in Grad School. Berkley University. Accessed February 2, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.uhs.berkeley.edu/bewell/grad%20student%20stress.pdf

1 thought on “Managing Stress: Learning from My Mistakes

  1. Pingback: Chat with Us Tonight, May 15th! | SNAP Section

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