Stress, a high credit load, & health

If all goes well, this will be my last semester of coursework…assuming that I can handle a 9 credit load (full time at my university for graduate students starts at 6 credits).  I tried this a year ago, but that happened to be a really bad time for that.  Because of problems with trying to get adequate pain management and the uptick of more health stuff, I ended up dropping the online course I was taking (it was a “test run” course for an instructor in my department, so there were technical difficulties on top of me not being an ideal online student).  In all honesty, most of the health stuff is still an issue….possibly even more of an issue, but I’m learning to cope with some of it like the random hand tremors.

The other reason why I’m taking an “overload” (most able bodied students in my department take this kind of load) is that I’m not teaching or TAing.  The courses I wanted are spaced out in a way that allows me to have sufficient time to rest &/or lay down when need be (no two classes in the same day, the two long classes are on Tuesday & Saturday to allow for time to work on coursework at a reasonable pace).  I also have one less student that I’m doing editing* for as well, so I’m in the best possible situation to do this.

Long story short, if this works it’ll be awesome!

The thing is…I’m scared.  I’ve talked about how recuperating is not the same as relaxing, so I’m putting some “safeguards” in place to try to help me get through the semester as unscathed as possible while making sure the non-class things (like my co-chair duties for NWSA and my meetings with my adviser & fellow SHS Kinesiology students) don’t get mucked up either.  Because of this fear, I wanted to blog about some of these “safeguards” that I’ve put in place to help keep me being the happiest, healthiest Casey I can be…that still wants to stay in academia for the long haul (finishing my PhD & getting an academic job afterward).

  • Do something purely for joy at least once a day
    • This one freaks a lot of academics out, especially grad students and non-tenured professors.  There’s some good research coming out that says that putting more hours in does not lead to equivalent levels of productivity.  There’s also research that shows the impact of high stress levels & working too much on both physical health & mental health.  “Work smarter, not harder” is the take-home message of that research and that’s particularly wise advice for many sick & disabled scholars.
    • Additionally, with disabilities that limit my physical & mental capacity, there are times where I’m not working but also not doing anything deliberately joyful.  Surfing Netflix because my pain levels are too high to do good critical work is not fun, it’s survival.  Catching up on the plethora of comic book inspired TV shows that are out right now?  Potentially joyful.
  • Be a realistic multitasker
    • Some multitasking works, some doesn’t.  For example, I tend to have too many tabs up in my browser (usually 90% of them journal abstracts)…this just makes me overwhelmed at “all the things I need to read” so it’s not functional
    • What is working are my recumbent bike workouts at the campus rec center where I let myself read fiction for the duration of the ride.  I know I’m not working out as hard as I would be if I wasn’t reading, and I know that my reading comprehension isn’t as good…but it lets me get my workout in (hooray!) as well as allows me to read for fun (which is part of a mentally healthy Casey).  Once the semester’s dust settles, I will be back dancing at least once a week and trying to take spin, yoga, & TRX classes….but those aren’t multitaskable.
  • Unsubscribe from non-vital email lists
    • I love to shop and I really love how various retailers can send me emails with all sorts of shiny things that make me smile (oh ThinkGeek…if I had the money & space in my house….).  However, the volume of emails was getting ridiculous and when money is particularly tight, it just reminded me of all the things that I can’t afford (versus being fun window shopping)
    • Similarly, I was getting a lot of emails from social justice oriented organizations, some of which (like MoveOn) constantly send out a lot of emails.  Some of these organizations are constantly trying to get me to donate money I don’t have to campaigns I would like to support.  As a compromise, I “liked” some of these organizations on Facebook so when I do take a break for some social media, I can see what these organizations are up to without as much stress.
  • Limit redundancy
    • I used to have my Facebook settings set that I would get emails whenever people posted in groups, whenever certain people posted (close friends), or when I was tagged.  Since I use FB for a lot of networking, research, support, & fun stuff, I was getting a lot of email…which was redundant because I could log in to FB and look at the notifications icon to get most of that information.  I now have my settings changed that I only get an email when I’m tagged or if I’ve set a post to “get notifications” so I’m not overloaded with information.  Sure, I miss some things…but such is life…it’s impossible to know everything about everyone anyhow, so it’s good to let go of that impulse.
    • Similarly, I’m on several social media platforms that I would sometimes follow XYZ organization/company on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and whereever else they were that I was also on (I don’t do Instagram or Pinterest).  When I would browse my social media, I would find redundant information from XYZ on the various platforms…which essentially can be a waste of time (it can be a great reminder, depending on how you operate in the world, but for me it just added to my feeling of “too much!”).  I’m trying to keep companies off my Twitter feed so I can see what my friends & colleagues post and FB for various other things (I have a great research network there, so FB isn’t going anywhere for me).  It helps me be able to disconnect & be present to other things in life.
  • Learn to say no
    • No to extraneous emails
    • No to commitments that must be “monkeywrenched” into my schedule
    • This is really hard.  There will be time to take on committee work (for example, this is not the time to find the committee working on the new Rec Center on campus to have input on accessibility…as much as I feel this is important, I just can’t).  There will be time to present at conferences, publish book reviews, write articles, etc.  I only have one body and saying no when possible will keep it in the best working shape it can be in!
  • Consistency!
    • This one is really hard for me, partially because I’ve learned to work in spurts and partially because my body doesn’t necessarily cooperate with consistency.  I’m trying to set up a schedule that has me going to bed & getting up at roughly the same time every day, writing at least a half hour a day (which is usually a small enough goal to not be daunting, long enough to get at least a couple solid ideas out on paper, and really a perfect amount of time to get my groove & write for longer (as well as to stop if my body isn’t cooperating with being at my desk).
    • I’m also applying this to some health behaviors.  You can probably see this from things like “find joy every day” and trying to get physical activity (even if it’s a wandering recumbent bike ride with fun reading…right now I’m reading A Beautiful Friendship from David Weber & I just finished Tamora Pierce’s Wolf Speaker).  I’m also applying this to eating habits as mine are sporadic.  I’m trying to make sure that I have a better stock of upset stomach-friendly foods because my pain meds frequently make me nauseous.  I’m also trying to limit things that make me feel crappy (I’m gluten intolerant, but I’ve been really bad about eating it lately because it’s cheap & easy), so I’m figuring out options that are low prep, easy travel (for my long days on campus), and economical.  Lately that’s been sliced apples & avocado for lunch and meat & sweet potato for dinner, with Graze snacks & other things for breakfast & as needed for meds.

This list isn’t in order of importance, just FYI

What is working or not working for folks?  What things do you prioritize when life gets hectic?

*If anyone needs my editing services, comment on this post & we can talk…I moderate the comments so your contact info won’t float around the internet.  I won’t be doing rush jobs this semester unless my husband has time to edit on my behalf.

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