Since September last year, I’ve been mired in a work environment that has quickly spiraled down into a morass of high pressure and even higher stress. Every day I’m plied with more and more responsibilities beyond my job description, and too often the fulfillment of these responsibilities depends heavily on factors (and people) that are completely out of my control. Coping hasn’t been easy, and for the longest time I’ve felt like so much of my life has quickly gotten out of my hands. This is the most helpless and beaten I’ve felt in recent memory, on par only with the awful experience of law school — and even then, the latter comes out a few points higher, because I at least had the power to leave.
In retrospect, I’ve already been on the road to burnout for the past year or more. When I reached college graduation, it was through month after month of terrible mental states and emotional strain. Instead of carving some time out for myself to recover, I threw myself headlong (and with little forethought or preparation) into the pressure cooker of law school. Shortly after that disaster, I plunged into my current job: as stressful, as demanding, as the environment I’d just left behind — if not more so, on account of the bigger stakes suddenly riding on my actions.
So for more than a year now, I’ve been frequently and relentlessly pushing past my physical, mental, emotional breaking points, with hardly any time to rest or recharge, or even the opportunity to choose rest if I wanted. In that time, I’ve been lamenting my utter lack of control, and the anxious buzzing in my head has grown louder and more insistent every day. It’s been a vicious cycle of terrible situations and equally terrible responses on my part (e.g., stress-eating, mishandled anger, and so on), and today I’ve finally had enough.
There is very little of my life that I can control right now, but to some extent, my mind and body remain part of that (tiny) fraction.
So, a simple proposition: A life reboot. I’m modeling this after Wil Wheaton’s similarly-titled personal development project over on his blog, and I’m posting about it here for accountability. Goals are easier to keep when they’re not just amorphous aspirations in your head; I figure having them out on the screen will not only keep me honest, but also motivated to keep going.
Like Will, I’m keeping my goals short and bulleted:
- Get better sleep
- Eat better food
- Exercise more
- Read more
- Write more
- Listen to more podcasts/Watch more movies
You’ll notice that 5 out of 6 of those goals mirror some of Wil’s. That’s not completely intentional; it’s just that many of his goals are for better mental health, and that happens to be a result that I’m also keen on achieving. My anxiety has been off the charts lately, morphing into this gnarled, unmanageable beast of a thing, and it’s been awful. I hate it; I hate where I am now, what it’s turned me into. There’s entirely too much self-pity and not enough remedying action on my part as of late, and I’m determined to do what I can to change that.
Get better sleep
These past couple of days, I’ve actually imposed an 11:30 PM maximum bedtime for myself, and it’s led to swift improvement in my outlook and disposition. I need to be more vigilant about my temporal boundaries, e.g., stopping work at 10 PM on the dot regardless of how pretend-urgent matters are or how much/little work I’ve done at that point. The demands of my job are already intrusive enough, in terms of both time and personal space, and there’s no need to be so accepting of such violations as to invite more of them by signaling that they’re okay.
Eat better food
This is a big one. I’m a terrible stress-eater, which is all the more frustrating since I’d successfully maintained mostly-Paleo eating habits for more than a year before the period of high stress-no reward kicked in. I’d like to get back to that, as I genuinely do feel better on a mostly-Paleo diet: I have more energy, better skin; I feel lighter, stronger, more agile. It’s just difficult to overcome the urge to gnaw on something, which inevitably arises during moments of anger and stress. The plan is to recalibrate my brain to:
- eat mostly whole food / turn away from fried and processed food – I’ve done this before, so I know I can sustain this
- drink water instead of eating when stressed
I’ll be using MyFitnessPal again, to keep track of how I’m doing. The app has led me to obsessively count calories in the past, so I’ll be more wary of that. There’s a specific press in the back of my skull — a mixture of desperation and urgency and worry — that crops up when I feel like bingeing or worrying overmuch about calories, so I’m watching out for that.
Exercise does wonders for my mood, and the challenge here is really finding the time and space to make exercise a viable option, especially in moments of stress. So #1 challenge here is accessibility: how easy is it for me to actually turn to exercise when I need it?
The site doyogawithme.com has been a fantastic discovery in that regard, because I’ve found that 1) I love yoga; 2) it dials down my anxiety so much; and 3) the site itself makes it so easy to do a quick routine when I need it.
I also want to get back to running and make that a regular thing, but I’m still going to have to see if that’s possible. Running is such a meditative activity for me, and I like zoning out and just inhabiting the pump of my legs and the pleasant burn in my lungs with every interval.
I’m also doing abdominal exercises every night before bed, and three sets of squats and push-ups every other morning. It might sound like too much, but I’ve found that lots of activity helps me use up anxious energy — and I’ve had a lot to use up lately.
I feel like I’ve neglected my personal (including intellectual) growth so much lately. As much hold as the job and its demands might have on me, I still have some say over how my personal time is allotted. Lately I’ve just been too exhausted to do more than putter around on the internet, but starting tomorrow I will do my best to use that time from 10 PM to 11:30 PM to do some actual reading. I’ve held off on The God of Small Things for far too long, and I miss the feeling of being immersed in the pages of a book.
Besides, it’s much, much easier to create when your mind has been replenished with inspiration and material — and the best way to do that is to read regularly.
I’m counting substantial blog posts as part of this one. My head has been overstuffed with half-formed thoughts lately, and it’s time I take a more active role in clearing it out a bit. I’d like to be more personally productive. I can gripe all I want about being more than just my work, but at some point I actually have to walk that talk, right? Besides, I declared this blog a commonplace book, but I’ve hardly put any notes in it — on anything. It’s a shame. There’s so much to speak about: Lexa’s death and the LGBT Deserves Better movement, the upcoming 2016 elections, even just exciting new local comic book releases. There’s so much passing me by; I want to do what I can to chase after it. More importantly, I want to get back into the habit of regularly considering things again — meditating on them, forming my own opinions, articulating those thoughts the best way I can.
Listen to more podcasts/watch more movies
This could also be phrased as “Learn new things,” though since I’d like to get into podcasting and/or back into video editing, I’ve focused on podcasts and movies. Like I said, I feel like my personal growth has been left by the wayside these past few months. I don’t know anything, not really, or at least not to the extent that I want to be knowledgeable about something. Work demands can only excuse so much.
If I can go on regular runs again, I’ll have time to listen to podcasts more. We’ll see what else I can do about this.
I’ll be grading myself out of 5 for each of these points, and I’ll be posting updates — well, I’m not sure if weekly or every other week will work better. I’ll try weekly for now.