In this post I’m going to talk about self-care and mental health. Finals period is here and obviously, it’s stressful. I am someone who has always been able to function well with stress, but recently, I’ve been having a very hard time managing everything I have left to do. So, in today’s post I want to take the time to self-reflect and ground myself using insights from one of my favorite podcasts: Hidden Brain.
In episode 65, Tunnel Vision, Shankar Vedantam explores several situations and factors that caused everyday people to enter the tunnel. Mainly, people who are experiencing some form of scarcity, whether it be food, money or anything else are in danger of losing sight of the bigger picture. In economics, scarcity is defined as the naturally occurring phenomenon in which we live in a world of limited resources, but we have unlimited wants and needs. For my particular case in this moment, that limited resource is time. In the podcast, Vedantam tells the story of a young woman who overworks herself during a residency program to the point where she drops out of the program and needs to go to a rehabilitation center. While this young woman is incredibly smart and dedicated to her work, she could not stop obsessing over the fact that her work took up all of her time. When she wasn’t at work, she would spend her time exercising or finding ways to improve at her job. As a result, she never left time for herself to relax or eat properly which resulted in heavy physical and mental decline.
Now I’m not telling you about this episode to scare you, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that stress is not a trivial matter. Finals are a beast by themselves, but being abroad, applying to summer internships and trying to get through finals is a whole other monster. Over the past two weeks, I have been saying the words “I have no time” practically every day and I have been unable to enjoy any free time I have because I will either use it to study or I will try to relax and end up stressing about being unproductive the whole time. It has become a vicious cycle for me and the physical signs of the stress are beginning to show (I’ve developed lower back pain and my neck muscles are in a constant dull pain). They key to managing tunnel vision and stress, according to Vedantam is to be aware of when you are in the tunnel, and to actively make decisions that go against your basic instincts to focus on the scarcity you are experiencing.
In other words, make time for yourself and keep your academics, internship applications and other stressors out of that time. In an attempt to follow his advice, I have been carving out time, usually 1 to 2 hours where I stay away from electronics, I go outside or I paint to keep my mind clear and give it time to recover. I can’t say my neck and back pain have gone away, but they are considerably less painful than they were when I was focusing on how little time I have left to finish my finals and get an internship.
So, from now until finals, make sure that you are not entering the tunnel, and if you are, make sure that you are aware of it and that you give yourself the time and space you need to function properly.