It is the end of the semester – finals time or end of finals time, depending on where you are and where you are with your stuff. And whether you are done or not done, surely you must have someone around you who is in the opposite state. How does one manage the emotional rollercoaster of this time of year? How does one maintain peace? Harmony? How do you still allow yourself to take care of yourself? Is that even a priority?
Every year I hear conversations in the hallway, or more often than not (and especially now that I am a more well known fixture within the college community) someone comes into my office and unloads these sorts of feelings and questionings. They rarely want _answers_. Verbally they want it all to go away and be something different. But really I think what they want is a different perspective. A way to look at the world so that the things that “must be done” aren’t done in such a way as to cause stress in such an intensely cyclical way. A way to get the work done, have fun and still remain a whole human being all at the same time. A way to make choices without that (fight or) flight response of wanting to run away and hope that someone or something will make the choices for them.
I think that deep down at least some of us know the power of perspective shifting. Every so often we witness it in action, purely by accident. For example, close your eyes and think of something that you really enjoy doing but that is really intense. Something that requires a lot out of you and leaves you exhausted either mentally or physically afterward. Something that you enjoy though. Got it? Ok. Now – let me ask you this. Does it stress you out?
No? I think not. For example, I LOVE hiking. With a passion. And when I walk past the parking lot and onto the trail, letting the canopy envelop me, I can’t help but let my feet take me forward and usually upward for far longer than I intended. And I almost always push myself farther than I think I can take it – not because I’m masochistic, but because I love being outdoors and there’s always something more to see and if I just go that much farther maybe I’ll see something new. I also enjoy the effect that reincorporating hiking and other exercise has had on my overall health, including on normalizing my weight. BUT – my point here is that I would not use the language of “Stress” to describe any of my hikes, even when it is pouring rain. And yet, if you were to hook me up to a heart monitor mid-hike, and definitely post-hike, you will find that my heart would like to tell a different story of being “stressed”. Same thing with lung function, blood flow to muscles… etc.
And yet when I am late to staff meeting and running down the hall, drop my pen, realize I forgot my notes about XYZ project and have to run back to get them etc. – am I stressed then? I’m running around – similarly challenging my body. And guess what, if you stop me to ask me if I’m stressed – I’m not going to be a happy camper. Not unless I change my perspective.
So – what’s going on here is the difference between how we think about things. In the hiking example, I think of hiking as a happy, pleasureful experience. So even though it is physically stressful – it does not affect me emotionally in a negative way. Quite the contrary.
And yet when I physically stress my body in a very similar manner, but inside and in the context of work and for a task which I have not framed as being enjoyable in quite the same way (i.e. getting to a meeting when you’re already late), I experience stress and negative consequences (tension). UNLESS, I change my perspective. Which I have done. This is a recent philosophical shift for me – something I’m trying on for size. Basically, trying to _decide_ to frame events in a different way when I notice that they are causing me stress (emotional).
So in the meeting example, I change the internal dialogue from “I’m late – hurry hurry.” to “Yes, you’re late – but it’s ok. Just get what you need and get there as soon as you can.” And if I still decide to run, I do so because I like the extra exercise and I do intentionally rather than in a stressful manner.
Let me know what your thoughts are on this idea of perspective shifting… Or on the end of the semester. And intentionally have a great day! 🙂