How do I cope with short term stress?
February 16, 2007 2:23 AM   Subscribe

How do I cope with short periods of lots of work?

I used to be terrible at handling stress. I let my work encroach into my entire life, particularly in my first couple of years of grad school. Then I figured out this was causing me to be depressed and exhausted, so I reclaimed my evenings and weekends, and I treat school like a 40 hour a week job. This has worked really well for me, but now I'm facing a month where this isn't an option. I still get enough sleep, and do have a little bit of downtime, but putting in these extra hours is causing me to be exhausted most of the time, and often near tears. This is unpleasant, and it's clearly causing me to work less efficiently as well.

Suggestions on how to get through this?
posted by someone else to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Exercise and fresh air help me. If I'm going to be in the office/lab/library from 9 until 8, I'll be a damn sight more productive if I pop out for a swim or a run or a trip to the gym. I'm convinced that walking to the gym, having 40 minutes of vigorous exercise and a shower then walking back is actually worth the hour "wasted" in increased productivity.

And take proper lunch breaks, which involve getting out of the building and sitting down somewhere else, either with other people or a newspaper (not work).
posted by handee at 2:37 AM on February 16, 2007

I wonder what actually causes your stress. For me, if I have to many things in my head, that tends to get stressy. So it works for me to then get those things on paper, in a todo list form. That way it is no longer a cloud in my head of all kinds of "have to do's" all the time, but a nice serialized list of separate things. That usually takes away a lot of stress for me.
posted by hz37 at 2:42 AM on February 16, 2007

Treat yourself a bit. Make sure you have your favorite soda or whatever to hand, your favorite music, and whatever you need to remind you that things aren't too bad after all (or, at least, they won't seem that way after).
posted by wackybrit at 3:51 AM on February 16, 2007

I heartily second handee.
posted by safetyfork at 4:27 AM on February 16, 2007

Stiff upper lip, old chap. In a month it will be over and then you can treat yourself, but don't think about the treat now, just get the work done. Take each bit of it one step at a time so you feel less overwhelmed by the totality of it all. A little treat like a chocolate or brandy when the day is done might be nice, but don't go overboard. Life is full of these periods, best not to fret over them too much.
posted by caddis at 4:36 AM on February 16, 2007

IANAD, but here's my prescription anyway:

Good exercise, good diet, plenty of vitamins (especially B-complex), liquid fish oil (not liver oil), 4 cups green tea. Everyday.

Oh, and stop drinking coffee. The first 48 hours will be tough, but after that you'll see that it just makes things worse.
posted by milarepa at 4:51 AM on February 16, 2007

Remember that it's a finite period of time, rather than a permanent state.

And I'll second the B-complex suggestion and add vitamin C to the mix.
posted by paleography at 7:05 AM on February 16, 2007

Stay away from coffee. I borrow a page (but not the whole book) from the GTD crowd by keeping a mental list (or sometimes a written/textedit list) of the next step I have to take on all my projects. Then I do them.

I've worked some -crazy- hours for school and work. Like, 16+ hours a day away from home with the nose to the grindstone, several weeks running. Just stay focused on keeping your head above water. Make sure you remember to eat -- I dropped ~10 pounds in 3 weeks on my last death march project because there was never time for lunch.
posted by Alterscape at 7:14 AM on February 16, 2007

For the bar exam, I studied 55 minutes an hour, and played a video game for the other 5. I took 1 hour lunches and dinners and played video games through the hour as well. When the hour was up, it was back to the grind.

Also short 10 minute naps are great.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:52 AM on February 16, 2007

Every suggestion here has a lot of merit. In my biz (there's no biz like it) we pretty regularly do weeks or months of 16+ hour days under some pretty high pressure and with inflexible deadlines and unreasonable expectations. In fact, last week, I did 34 hours straight as part of a crew of 20 people whose ages ranged from 23 to 64. I'm not as young as I used to be, so I take some interest in how people handle it.

I'll second quitting coffee (not necessarily caffeine), taking vitamins, stiffening the ole upper lip, and taking some regular time away as often as you can. Make your atmosphere as enjoyable and relaxing as possible.

I'll add: wear the most comfortable clothing you can. Eat good food....the goal is not to eat too much/many sugar or carbs, nothing heavy (pizza, etc), and not too much don't want to get onto a cycle of being energized and then being exhausted in one day. Red Bull and other drinks of that ilk are great for quick bursts, but after a while, you crash. Even being a little tired for a long period of time is preferable to radical swings of energy and exhaustion. Try not to eat or drink anything towards the end of the day if it will have any effect on the length or quality of your sleep. Avoid alcohol. It sounds wierd, but washing your face (and feet, if you're on them a lot) can really keep you going. Change your clothes, even twice in one day - it can fool your mind into thinking that it's a new day, along with all the things that come with it. If outside pressures cause stress, try to enlist the help of spouse/family/friends. Explain to them what's going my experience, most people who care about you will go out of their way to make your life easier once they hear about what's going on.

Finally, and most importantly, always remember that you're doing something really harsh to yourself, and to give yourself unusual leeway. During my latest 34 hour marathon, around hour 20 I became really argumentative, unreasonable and pissy, and stayed that way until I saw that I was just really tired, sick of it all and this was how it was manifesting itself. I hung around talking outside, coatless, while a coworker had a cigar in the 15 degree cold. It gave me a change of scenery as well as a refresher thanks to the cold. That 10 or so minutes gave me hours of energy and a whole new head.

What you're doing isn't normal, but (as you said) it won't last forever. Remember that...try not to focus on how many days left, but keep in mind how long you've been at it, to remind yourself that you're actually doing it and you'll make it through.

Sorry this is so rambly, but it's been a long week....
posted by nevercalm at 9:46 AM on February 16, 2007

I'm not recommending this, but stressed junior doctors traditionally just drink a lot
posted by TrashyRambo at 1:18 PM on February 16, 2007

This is not meant as a slam -

Realize you are lucky enough to have a life where you sometimes have to work for a while and you know things will go back to normal. If it isn't manual labor, plan a party for yourself when all is over. You probably get paid to think, and it isn't easy sometimes, but it could be a hell of a lot worse.

Most of my jobs require me to do nothing most of the time, and then work constantly when I need to. I get paid to think, as I think most people here do. When I need to work, I might spend a couple of days straight in one place. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. Most of my down time is spent figuring out how to minimize the time I will have to spend in situations like that.

My grandfather died a slow death from working in a coal mine. I sometimes have to stay awake for a while in an office.

Realize how well you have it, suck it up, and deal.
posted by bh at 5:59 PM on February 16, 2007

So several folks said quit coffee; well I think they are nuts. Quit coffee after the ordeal is over. Don't add to your stress by quitting coffee at the same time your workload has dramatically increased. I wouldn't necessarily up my coffee intake either, but good Lord, quit? Nonesense. By the way, coffee is good for you, in moderation (a couple three cups a day, not a cup every hour).
posted by caddis at 7:01 PM on February 16, 2007

I agree that quitting coffee would probably be crazy right now. Have you seen a counselor? It could help you keep perspective, and it helps to know someone's there to help catch you if you start going over the edge. Don't wait until you're there already to find someone.

Whatever you do, make sure you're getting enough sleep. You probably know this, but nothing aggravates stress like exhaustion. If you're having trouble sleeping, said counselor might be able to help with this, too. Schedule get togethers with friends, even if only for an hour or two at the end of the day, just to get your mind off your work for a bit. You HAVE to give your brain a break, or you will be unproductive. If you can manage it, go to yoga or dancing classes for the best stress relievers ever. Now if only I could take my own advice....
posted by walla at 9:15 AM on February 17, 2007

« Older What are some interesting verse forms?   |   CSS Issue in Win IE. Help please! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.