Changing the Lightbulb

Pretend you’re in class, or maybe at work, or heck, just doing something you enjoy. And you’re listening to someone speak, whether that be the professor, your boss, or just the thoughts in your head. And they say something that makes a lightbulb go off. Not the Eureka! kind of lightbulb that worked as soon as you screwed it in. I mean the lightbulb that you had to replace two times because first it broke and then you grabbed the wrong wattage.

The lightbulb scenario is my life right now. I’ve spent the past two and half years getting confused, turned around, and generally stressed. But since this semester began and I switched my major to Interdisciplinary Comm and Art, things are starting to make sense. The lightbulb is finally working.

It’s not like I understand life, the universe, and everything, that would be a bit much. I just mean that in my advertising class we talked about targeting and stereotypes, which came up the next day in my sociology class, when we discussed the importance of understanding culture and observing social interaction more carefully.

In my graphics class we’re learning about the elements of design and all the things that go into making posters, logos, and ads. I’m finding out that almost all of it is intuitive and I’m even able to apply techniques to my flyers for the Knifty Knitters. I never thought I would feel so comfortable in class.

I even feel more confident in the subject that has always been a constant in my college major choice. Landscape painting is proving to be a joy, and I’m starting to see how I’m influenced by my favorite artists while developing my own unique style. I’m feeling more creative out of the classroom than I have before, and I. Love. It.

To be honest, sometimes I still feel overwhelmed. I still feel like I don’t know what my future holds and please don’t ask what I’m doing after I graduate. I know a lot of my peers feel the exact same way; I know they’re under an extreme amount of pressure to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives when they don’t even know what they have planned for next Saturday. Success is expected and failure is not an option.

This is why the lightbulb is so important. It might not work first time, or the second, or the third. Maybe it’s a bit dim, or maybe it’s way too bright and you can’t stand the fluorescence. Sometimes the lightbulb breaks and after you pick up the pieces you stand there and think Why Me? Why Now? But when that lightbulb works, when you screw it in and it makes that connection and things begin to fall into place and suddenly life seems a little more manageable, that’s when you know you’re onto something.

And that something can lead you anywhere.

And that is where I end this analogy.

Last night I fooled around with charcoal pastel

I recently made this for Poetry Club

Outrunning Your Stress

It starts with a twinge. Just a little twinge. And then a nip. Just a little nip that turns into a nibble. This nibble starts you moving, your meandering pace turning into a quick trot. You catch a glimpse of your pursuer in your peripheral vision. A shadow no longer biting at your heels but matching your hurried walk with ease. You pick up the pace and gain a few yards. Looking back, you can see that the shadow has turned into a substantive form and is now loping in your wake, strengthened by your anxiety. You break into a sprint, trying to shake the growling beast that is determined to bring you down. Fear grips you, things claw at you as you speed past, shredding every last bit of confidence while unidentifiable objects pull down your spirit. You aren’t going to last much longer. The beast is breathing goosebumps onto your neck and there is nowhere to hide, no place to go but forward. Always forward.

We all know this beast. Some of us more than others. But by the time we get out of high school we’ve dealt with it a few times and probably had a few close calls. This fiend that pursues us even in the most pleasurable of pursuits is stress.

And in a college student’s life, there’s a lot of it. From course work to jobs to sports to clubs to personal relationships, stress is part of the daily routine. There’s a difference, though, between being stressed in a healthy way, and having stress take over your life. The line between the two becomes increasingly hard to maintain, and as I look around me at freshmen wrapping up their first year of college, sophomores sorting out majors and minors, juniors searching for internships, and seniors getting ready to graduate, I see that line erase completely.

Why does this all matter you might ask? Well, besides the almost universal change-in-attitude-affect, people can also have physical side affects from stress. When I switched from homeschooling to a public high school, my stress level increased dramatically and I thought I was handling it pretty well…until my immune system rebelled against me and I developed a mild form of atopic dermatitis and alopecia. So not fun. But eventually I got a handle on it. I changed some of my routines and learned how to manage my stress levels. And I’m still learning, since college is a completely different environment from high school.

If you’re reading this and getting freaked out because a) you’re in high school,  b) you’re in college and you aren’t stressed or c) you’re a parent of a current or future college student, don’t be! (You’re probably snorting in disbelief right now, I mean, what was that first paragraph for, right?) I’m serious. When I was in high school I was told “College is so much easier,” and “If you’re succeeding under pressure now, you’ll be fine in college,” and I didn’t believe it. How could college be any easier and how could the stress lessen in any way?

I don’t have an exact answer, but it does. Maybe it has to do with your age, maybe there’s a mental advancement in compartmentalizing, or maybe you just know yourself better. No matter how, and no matter why, stress in the life of a college student is always present, but it’s always manageable.

In case you don’t believe me, and that beast is breathing down your neck, here are some tips to avoid or deal with stress while at Loyola:

  1. Breathe. Whether it’s meditation or just closing your eyes and inhaling slowly, it’s always good to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
  2. Make a plan. Instead of blundering ahead blindly and hoping your luck will hold out, write down what you want to do and when you want to complete it. Setting goals makes the process more rewarding and easier to handle.
  3. Sleep. Chances are if you’re super stressed, you’re not getting enough sleep. I’m a big believer in the 10 minute power naps that pick me up at 1am. You’ll get through those 20+ pages of reading faster and write that paper better if you have a little sleep under your belt.
  4. Talk to someone (or several someones). Venting about stress is a good way to relieve it. Find someone who doesn’t mind you freaking out for 15 minutes so you can get it out of your system. Hopefully they can do the same with you!
  5. Allow for some “Me” time. Take a walk. Do something creative (it uses a different part of your brain from analytical thought). Sing in the shower. Being on your own can really clear your head and shake that feeling of being pursued by constant anxiety.

Clumsiness is to Lack of Sleep as Stress is to School

That’s it. I’m officially a walking disaster zone when I’m tired. And stressed. Lots of stress.

In the last 15 minutes alone I have managed to spill brownie mix all over myself (dry, thankfully), spill water on my socks, and smudge brownie mix on my sleeves (not dry).

My lack of coordination is usually straight forward and easy to deal with. You know, the typical tripping over my feet, falling up the stairs, running into people while walking backwards, dropping random objects, but all fairly predictable and spread out through the week.

But three mishaps in 15 minutes? Maybe I should rethink wearing heels to Loyola Rising tonight.

Those bricks on the bridge are not conducive to heeled boots.

Now, if you’re wondering why I’m so tired and therefore clumsy, I have three words for you:

Registration/Thanksgiving Break

Yesterday, sophomores registered for their spring semester classes and I can say without a doubt that the 30 seconds of staring at the “Loading” sign are some of the most stressful in my life.

Most courses range from 15-25 spots (a very intimate and personal classroom) and as the day goes by, section after section fills up and those who have later registration times go through three or four “back up” schedules. Like me.

I don’t handle that kind of stress well. Opening up my college acceptance/denial letters was torture. Waiting to see if I got the last spot in a Printmaking class was like sitting on tenterhooks and having my heart try to leap through my lungs.

If it’s any consolation, registration gets easier every semester. Seniors always have first pick, followed by Juniors, then Sophomores, and first years actually get help registering. Loyola often adds more sections for core courses, so that eases up the overflow, too.

Normally after registration life is a bit easier and the stress build-up dissipates within a few hours, but this year registration was right before Thanksgiving break. Which means professors try to cram in as many tests, projects, and papers as possible.

Why this crazy amount of work for what isn’t even a full week of break?

Because two weeks after Turkey Day is final exams and then FREEDOM!!!!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. I enjoy my classes, professors, friends, and free time in Baltimore. But sleeping in and not worrying about running clubs or writing papers is at the top of my Christmas  wishlist. (I take after my dad. He always asks for Peace and Quiet.)

I’m used to being busy, but there are fits and spurts of hectic craziness that make one week drag on forever and another feel surprisingly short.

In order to not wind up like me and accidentally snap at your roommates when they kindly ask what you would like to do for the weekend (or get covered in chocolate powder), here are a few pointers:

  1. Think ahead. If you know there are a lot of things coming up, then you can…
  2. Plan ahead. Having a calendar is essential to getting work done on time.
  3. Make lists! Having something to cross off makes me feel accomplished. Half the time I don’t cross it off anyway, but just knowing the order of things still helps.
  4. Be aware of others. You probably aren’t the only one freaking out, so be willing to accept and give support.
  5. Eat well. Grab some breakfast, even if it’s only a granola bar, get lots of protein (eggs are brain food!), and indulge in the occasional sweet as a reward (OK, maybe more than occasional).
  6. Take time to relax and do something that doesn’t use the analytical part of your brain. And I don’t mean watch TV. Color, knit, write stream-of-consciousness poetry, play solitaire, lie outside and look at the clouds, cook dinner.
  7. Laugh! I’m not kidding. Having one of those belly-laugh moments is great. Laughing so much that your abs hurt and your eyes are tearing up sounds ridiculous, but if feels so good afterwards.
Reading

Apparently I looked like a mermaid, tucked away reading in my room over the weekend.

Stress painting

My roommate & I paint to relieve stress; it tends to come out rather abstract.

I'm a ghost!

I'm telling you: Belly laughs. They're good for the spirit.