I’ve recently been somewhat distracted from blogging, due to a bunch of factors: stress, a new hobby (making leather goods!), and house hunting. I’m planning a post on each of them, so for this post, I thought I’d focus on the first one.
In general, I don’t mind feeling busy or even slightly stressed if the work is interesting and it’s not an *overwhelming* busy. I think you need a bit of stress in order to produce good work, especially if you’re your own boss, as in my job. You know that “good busy” feeling: you’re in the zone, doing interesting things, churning through your to do list, getting stuff done. Like a boss.
But the beginning of the year kicked my butt. It was a combination of two main things: writing a proposal with four other faculty, and organizing a workshop with another faculty. Both of these involved working extensively with other people, and needed good leadership skills, and people to pitch in and do their part. I was a primary organizer for both of these projects, and didn’t have the easiest experience trying to herd the
cats faculty. Part of it was my inexperience leading large projects with senior people involved, and part of it was some people’s lack of contributions. Let’s just say there are certain people who I won’t be choosing to work with again.
Anyway, as a consequence of this, I kind of developed some minor health issues: mainly insomnia, and, uh, women’s health. I would wake up in the middle of the night with feelings of dread, and be unable to fall back asleep. And Aunt Flo stopped visiting regularly, which really freaked me out.
All this made me realize: this is not healthy! I need to slow the heck down. Whatever I was busy with at the beginning of this year, and at the end of last year, was having consequences on my physical health. That’s a scary thought to me, especially in the long term.
So I’ve been thinking a bit about what lifestyle changes can be made, and have tried implementing some of these in practice. Let them be recorded here on the blog in stone, so that I can be held accountable!
Reduced email checking
I’d already disabled work email notifications on my phone and laptop, but I decided to take this one step further, and stop checking work email over the weekends. I first tried this last weekend, and had this vague feeling the whole time that the world was going to collapse and/or multiple people were about to be mad at me for not responding. I know that most of my colleagues are responsive at all hours – I’ve emailed my dept chair at 10pm on a weekday, and gotten an immediate answer. So it was hard for me to let go. But come Monday, guess what happened when I opened my email inbox? A piddly 9 emails came in over the weekend! (most of them spam) I’ve skipped checking email this weekend as well, so hopefully my inbox doesn’t explode come Monday morning 🙂
Light work in the evening
I generally try to do some work in the evening after dinner and an appropriate break, but I’ve been trying to make this light work that doesn’t require much brainpower. For example, grading midterms, or catching up on administrative emails. Nothing complicated that would bring up stressful emotions or get suck me into the work vortex until midnight. When this happened in the past, I’d then require another hour or two to decompress, and only got to bed around 1-2am, which was hurting my sleep, since I tend to wake up early and have trouble sleeping in. So far, this has been effective – I’ve been setting aside certain tasks during the day, and designating them for nighttime when less brainpower is available. This also frees up time during the day to work on more challenging tasks.
Ditching electronics in bed
I used to go to bed with my phone/tablet. I know, I know, this is against every piece of sleep advice out there, but there was always this feeling of just one more blog post to read, or just one more Instagram feed to scroll through. This was definitely impeding my ability to fall asleep quickly. I had to feel dead tired before I could turn off the electronics and close my eyes to pass out. I’ve now switched over to reading a book instead, and the feelings of sleepiness come much faster. (But it can’t be too interesting of a book, as that would defeat the purpose!)
I still want to work on ditching electronics when I wake up. My phone is already located in another room, but somehow my sleepy brain sleep-walks my legs to grab my phone in the morning and bring it back to bed. I feel that I could sleep in better if I didn’t have this automatic instinct to start reading BBC News in the morning. This one will probably be harder to break than the no electronics at night rule, but hey, baby steps, right?
Yeah, I know self-care is a big buzzword, but I’m really trying to take it to heart and do things that I enjoy on the weekends. So far, this has included: being a foodie and driving to restaurants in other cities, visiting open houses, the leather crafting hobby that I mentioned above, and taking advantage of our beautiful California winter weather to go hiking. The wildflowers are out in full force! The streams are full of water! The park is across the street from my place, so I really have no excuse. Overall, I want to take that time that used to be spent browsing random websites online, and do things away from the computer for a completely different change of pace.
How do you deal with workplace stress? Have you found that it affects your physical health?