Restoring to human after academic stress
January 3, 2011 10:55 AM   Subscribe

How do you recover from academic stress? Or any other intense, brain-killing stress? I have a week and a half off between semesters and I need a plan.

I'm in my final year of architecture school, and normally I manage to keep my enthusiasm and work ethic up, but the last three weeks have been excruciating - procrastination, apathy, massive guilt, the lot. The semester has just been too long and too hard, without a break/weekends/etc, and the January-June bit will be worse.

I'm not depressed, I should add, and this is a condition common to 60 of us right now.

So, I have a week and a half off after tomorrow - ideally, there's some work I should do, but I'd rather a very busy first week back if I need the time off. I had hoped to go away - novelty! memorable fun! no internet! - but we had to cancel. What can I do in the time I have off to refill my brain and turn this around?

Current plans, in case they're helpful:
- Get moderately drunk tomorrow night with my classmates and enjoy the luxury of having time for a hangover.
- Go for a few long walks by the sea and up the mountains (snow permitting)
- Sleep. A lot. At night.
- Spend a day out sketching with a friend
- Cinema during the daytime
- Visit an exhibition I've wanted to see for months
- Go to a few gigs, and spend some time on music writing
- Drink lots of water, cook with friends, have lazy movie evenings.

Anything that's worked for you, I'd love to hear it!
posted by carbide to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Read a book that is totally unrelated to what you're studying. Fiction is best, I've found. If you have a favorite "guilty pleasure" book that you like to reread, read that (mine is Valley of the Dolls). If not, get some recommendations for great novels and pick something new. The idea is to fill your head with fun stories that make you happy and to associate reading with something awesome rather than tedious and guilt-inducing. Enjoy!
posted by decathecting at 10:58 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

get a massage. barring that, take a lot of hot baths.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:03 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always liked accomplishing something physical. Completing a physical task wears you out but refreshes you at the same time -- and unlike most intellectual tasks, there's a finite end point. When I was burned out working on my college thesis, I retiled the bathroom floor. It challenged me, distracted me, and when I was done I could sit and admire it and know it was well and truly done.
posted by katemonster at 11:08 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Exercise is good for the brain and stress in general. Makes you feel better, I've found. I'd opt for long walks/day hikes.
posted by not_on_display at 11:17 AM on January 3, 2011

I'm with thinkingwoman--I like to combine the two by going to a place that has soaking tubs and massage. Super relaxing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:19 AM on January 3, 2011

- Get moderately drunk tomorrow night with my classmates and enjoy the luxury of having time for a hangover.

Go get moderately drunk with people who aren't your classmates. Or at least get drunk twice and do it the second time with non-classmates. Why? Because I can assure that y'all are going to start having drinks and bitching about school. I know architecture students don't get a lot of time to have bitch sessions -- which are, on the whole, positive things -- but don't waste time you could be not thinking about school on them.
posted by griphus at 11:25 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the biggest things that helped me - though I am admittedly a little odd - was cleaning up my house a bit. I tidied up all the little things that I skipped over while I was in school - including filing the first term's papers, research, etc. I feel better when my life is in a bit of order and, during the school term, I don't have time to get nitpicky with things.

Beyond that, I attended one big party - and avoided all other social obligations. Stayed up really late catching up on TV shows and movies. Slept late - didn't set the alarm. Ate food that took a bit longer to make (the kind that I don't have a chance to make/eat during the school term). Went to the library and checked out more (fiction) books than I could possibly read during my time off.

Today is, in fact, my last day of all that and then I'm starting my final term of my diploma... and I'm about as ready to go back as I think I'll ever be. Hopefully your time off will be just as relaxing!
posted by VioletU at 11:25 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Rock climbing is wonderful for destressing. I find it hard to be thinking about my work when my lizard brain is preoccupied with "holy shit I'm going to fall".
posted by endless_forms at 11:27 AM on January 3, 2011

Use this time to tidy up something in your home. Start with a room/section you like or spend a lot of time in - if you love cooking, clean up your kitchen; if you like to get dressed up, reorganize your closet. If you have the cash to spare, buy something new and nice for the tidied space like shelves or a potted plant something.

Not only will it provide a constructive distraction now, but when the new semester starts and you're busy again, it'll feel great to come home to a clean, peaceful space.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your current plans sound awesome and did the trick for me after the handful of periods of intense academic stress I went through. Sleep, friends, good food and entertainment/media that has nothing to do with architecture.

If it's in your wheelhouse, I might also add starting a TV series on DVD - it's something you can do during the lazy mildly hungover day(s) and it always feels deliciously indulgent/relaxing to me to watch a bunch of episodes of something in a row. Comedies/thrillers/stuff that doesn't require intense intellectual investment preferred.
posted by superfluousm at 11:29 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

My present to myself upon finishing student teaching a month ago was to hire someone to clean my apartment (a first and probably only thing for quite awhile) while I went to get a professional massage. I have never felt more relaxed than when I walked back in the door.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 11:31 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Change of environment. Your brain will spin down without all the usual triggers around you. Go visit your parents. Even better, go visit a friend in another state. Bonus points if you and said friend are mutually attracted to each other and you manage to resolve years of unresolved sexual tension while you're there. Seriously. It's worth the time, expense, and hassle to take that plane ride.
posted by zeek321 at 11:43 AM on January 3, 2011

In December 2008 I was pretty much a wreck due to work stress related reasons that were much worse and much more intense than any of the academic stress I'd encountered during my PhD. Just after Christmas I flew out to visit my partner who was in Australia for a couple of months; if it weren't for that trip I'd probably have cracked up altogether. Here's what's worked for me, on that occasion and others:

- Go on a road trip. Be prepared to spot interesting things half way through and change the plan. We intended to visit a music festival but to take a week or so getting there and deliberately didn't set a specific route; we took in beaches, museums, wildlife reserves, vineyards, waterfalls, and giant lizards all pretty much by accident. Cycle touring is also really good for this sort of adventure!

- Music festivals in general are good at providing a short period of intense fun in a completely different environment, which is good for letting the rest of the world go for a bit.

- Go surfing. I found it very demanding and intense, but the fact that it demands total concentration means there's no room for residual worrying about what stuff will be like when you go back home. It is also amazing fun. I find going climbing is similar.

- Stay away from the Internet, it will suck away your time. (But come back later and tell us how it went!)

How effective this will be is kind of a function of how your mind works: I know people who like chilling out at home but personally I've found that I need a lot of intensity (of the good sort), or a different environment, and preferably both, in order to take my mind off things and relax properly.
posted by doop at 12:00 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Exploring on foot, especially somewhere in a preserve or wild area, consistently banishes most day-to-day tasks in my experience. I agree, most physically-demanding things focus your attention on the immediate task at hand. I'd recommend purging your closet/storage area of things you no longer use/wear and either try to give them away, sell them, or donate. Freeing up space in your personal sanctuary feels great.
posted by monichacha at 1:11 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with those who recommend cleaning, whether you do it yourself or hire someone. Either way, you're creating a stress-free zone for yourself for at least the beginning of the semester.
posted by epj at 1:43 PM on January 3, 2011

Stay off the Internet (seriously) and get a change of scene, preferably to somewhere physically and mentally demanding. Exercise combats anxiety, and mental engagement will prevent you from worrying about school. Rock climbing and surfing would be perfect but if those aren't your scene even a good hike would be fun. Try to go with someone who's not your classmate.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:40 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, have I got the answer for this.

I had some very intense years of undergrad - so intense that my grad school experience now doesn't seem half bad. At the end of each quarter, I would take an "anti-intellectual day" for a full 24 hours starting the day after my last exam. Given that I have always had a reputation for being a very bookish intellectual gal, my anti-intellectual days soon became quite epic.

Anti-intellectual day includes the following rules:

--Preferred dietary intake should involve pudding and Cap'n Crunch, perhaps some Kraft Mac and Cheese. Eating anything wholesome is not allowed on anti-intellectual day. Your goal should be to eat only processed foods, all day.

--Reading material should revolve around the likes of Cosmo, Maxim, and Weekly World News

--You must watch at least one movie with Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell or someone similarly talented

--You are absolutely FORBIDDEN from listening to NPR, watching CSPAN or CNN, or reading any of the following: NY Times, Economist, any book that's ever been on a "Best of" list (unless it was "Best of summer beach reading")

After about 1-2 days of this, you'll get it out of your system and feel much better for it.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:30 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I listen to stress reduction or meditation tapes. The ones I'm enamored of are from a Scottish hypnotherapist named Andrew Johnson, who has mp3s and iOS apps for sale. But they're far from the only ones out there, and you don't need a tape to doe some meditation or stress reduction exercises. Sometimes, a bit of yoga or similar will do wonders.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:53 PM on January 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much, this is awesome.

- The road trip thing would have been a firm yes if the weather were better - I'm still going to try to fit in one night away along an interesting journey if next week isn't snowbound.
- I am scrambling to find a petting zoo, best idea ever.
- I live in a one-room apartment so it's always clean out of necessity, but I can imagine how lovely that idea would be.
- I can't believe I forgot to mention reading.

My triumph so far has been going out jusr to meet someone for lunch and getting back twelve hours later through leisurely afternoon drinking, cooking and scheming. Will report back if I manage anything interesting, and I'm very grateful for all the suggestions.
posted by carbide at 6:46 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Creating a manifest of manifestos   |   Help me find this flooring! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.