I don't know about you, but I think the most stressful things in my life are usually situations that I can't control. It makes me anxious to be at the mercy of some other person, to be dependent on the whims of some impersonal bureacracy, to wait and see if fate will deliver good news or bad. I have a lot of those kinds of situations in my life right now, and they cause me a good deal of nervous uneasiness. Here are a few of them:
- My advisor now has every chapter of my dissertation in his possession. This is good -- but I can't move forward on editing until he sends something back to me, and time to finish edits is very limited.
- I am working two jobs this semester for two different departments at my university, neither of which is my "home" department (where I'm getting my degree). This means that, in order for me (and my tuition) to get paid, representatives from both those departments have to communicate with my "home" department, transfer a multitude of forms and information to them, and then the accountant in my "home" department has to do some more paperwork and forward everything to payroll and the cashier's office, which then has to process everything and cut checks to the appropriate parties. (Clear as mud yet?) Last semester I had to wait 6 weeks for my first paycheck because the paperwork wasn't submitted properly before the deadline. Also, my tuition for last semester wasn't paid until December 23rd (after the semester was over), and this January someone found and gave to me a paycheck that payroll had cut for me last September. I hope I get paid on January 31st, and I hope my tuition is paid in time for me to graduate in May, but I have no guarantees of these things.
- I graduate in May but have no idea what I'm going to do for employment after that. I would apply for jobs in my field, but have found none to apply for. I have found a scant few postdoctoral fellowships to apply for, but none of them is anywhere near my sweetheart, who expects me to move to California and marry him after graduation.
These things are stressful -- very stressful. So sometimes I eat too much or drink too much to keep the anxiety at bay ... although it doesn't really help all that much. I'm trying, though, to take control of those things that I really CAN control, and I find that doing that eases the knot in my stomach that forms when I think about the uncertainties of my future and the things I can't control. Here are some things that I can control in my life:
- I can control what I put in my mouth. I can plan ahead and decide what I will and won't eat and drink, every day. I can eat a balanced diet and drink sparingly, and my body feels healthier and less stressed when I do.
- I can control what I do with my body. I can get up and exercise every day. I can continue to build up running mileage. I can train for and run a 10K race in March. I can strength train and tone my muscles for long-term health.
- I can control the amount and quality of work I do. I can write thoughtfully and well, I can read and edit carefully, and I can keep track of detailed data.
- I can organize my house and my daily schedule to live efficiently and well. I can put my kitchen in order so that preparing healthy foods is convenient and pleasurable. I can organize my living room, bedroom and desk area to help me work and live with minimal stress in a clutter-free space. I can plan my daily schedule so that I have ample time to do everything I need to do each day.
- I can reward myself and give myself credit when I reach goals and meet obligations. I can support myself and cut myself slack when I struggle and stumble. I can remind myself of past accomplishments and have confidence that I can meet today's challenges.
- I can ask for help and support from friends and colleagues when I need it. I can be confident that others want me to succeed and are willing to help me when asked. I can share my worries and my joys and give others the opportunity to give me advice and encouragement.
Just remembering that there are lots of ways for me to exert control in my life helps me to feel less helpless and anxious. I'll never be able to control everything about my life and my future, but there are many ways to tip the scales and make my life better and less stressful. The key for me, I think, is not to forfeit the control I do have in my life simply because I feel overwhelmed in a few areas. The more areas I confidently control, the smaller the spaces in which I cannot be effective.