There is nothing I love more than a weekend getaway. This weekend I whisked myself away to one of my girlfriends’ cabins about two hours away from home out in the middle of nowhere. We made brownies and peach mojitos, roasted marshmallows over a bonfire, and spent the day basking in the sun on the dock. In the days leading up to our girls getaway, I clocked 44 hours by Wednesday at work. I also made some appointments, went to the gym and had lunch with my grandma. While I was in university full time, I was working three jobs and flying by the seat of my pants daily (first time using that expression… not sure how I feel about it yet so for those of you who feel unsure as well, let’s just say I was fashionably late to just about everything, due to a combination of over-planning and procrastination). I would work a 12 hour overnight shift ending at 7am and show up to class at 9-12, then work again at 4pm. It worked for me, but now that things have gone from classes, homework, practicum and work to simply working and free time, I’ve actually started to become anxious when I’m not on the go or when I plan things last minute. It sounds weird, I know, that I feel more anxious when all I have going on is either work or not work, rather than juggling jobs and school, but I think being idle can be stressful. When I have a few days off in a row, I start to feel lazy and useless, or overly motivated to the point that I return from my days off exhausted. Being in the professional world now, I decided to build structure into my own world to reduce the amount of anxiety I seem to develop when it comes to making plans. If, like me, you find yourself stressing about overbooked weeks and trying to fit plans in, here’s what I’ve been doing and I hope that maybe it can help you too!
Finding somewhere to keep track of things that you’ll actually use. I always used to be so eager to write my plans in the free agendas we got in school, but two weeks later it would end up tucked in books or under my bed or lost who knows where. I’d replace it with a pretty day planner that I actually enjoyed looking at, and suddenly it became so easy to make notes and decorate it with reminders that I became consistent at it. Something else that doesn’t work for me- putting plans in my phone. Although I add my shifts into my calendar for the daily reminders of when I work, looking at 30 days where some have little dots and some don’t, and some dots mean work and some mean appointments and some mean American holidays that aren’t even relevant for me, is extremely stress inducing. I’d like to be able to color code the dots to mean different things, but since I can’t (or don’t know how to) change the way the calendar looks, I’ve stuck to the old fashioned way of writing it down. Basically- find something that makes it easy, even if that means having 3 calendars in the house. I also organize my calendar and day planner by putting day activities in the top half of the square and evening activities in the bottom, so that I don’t look at it and see a cluster of to-do’s and feel so busy. Instead I see a busy morning and a free evening or vice versa and take comfort knowing I have some time to myself.
Committing to realistic plans rather than grand ideas. Recently, my two best girlfriends and our moms drove 4 hours to Fargo to see Bruno Mars in concert because we couldn’t get tickets in my hometown. Seemed realistic enough, a quick weekend getaway to do something super fun. Well, we bought these tickets 8 months in advance and even booked a hotel so early as to save on last minute prices. 3 months after buying the tickets, my grandpa went into the hospital, and 4 months after that he passed away. In those four months my mom and I barely thought about the concert, until the funeral planning and the initial grief passed and we both realized we really didn’t have the energy or the desire to go anymore. Since we had made plans as a group of 5, we were trapped, and although we ended up having a great weekend (and I bought 3 pairs of gorgeous shoes!!!), there was a lot of stress and anxiety leading up to, and at times during the trip.
On the other hand, I committed to the girls weekend that just passed about 3 weeks prior to the date. The reason I committed to it, is because I wasn’t required to drive anyone, nor would my presence be missed if I cancelled last minute in a way that would ruin anyone else’s plans. That way, in the days leading up to the trip, I let myself stress at the thought of being away for three days and in a bad wifi zone where I couldn’t lean on Babe for some moral support, and I was able to get over it knowing I could back out if I needed to. Because there was no real pressure or commitment, I was able to go and enjoy myself without an ounce of regret (except maybe munching on the late night nachos that I chose over a bikini bod).
Basically what I’m saying is, if solid commitments are intimidating, don’t make them if you’re not sure! Some things- applying for a university or college program, getting married, investing money, going on a trip- that aren’t possible to back out of, are commitments that can’t necessarily be done last minute. So these things are the ones to do only when there isn’t any doubts. Sure there is nerves, cold feet, second guessing, but if it begins to turn into anxiety, it may be a sign that you’re not ready, like me when it came to leaving my Versace on the floor.
Not cramming days full every day of the week. In the few weeks before Babe leaves, I usually go into hermit-with-him mode, where I spend the majority of my free time with Babe making as many memories and giving as many hugs and kisses as we can before he’s gone for the season. My friends and family know and understand this, and although they may see me in these few pre-departure weeks, they know it probably won’t be often unless Babe is by my side. Once Babe leaves, in order to make up for lost time and also to keep busy so I don’t return to my goodbye cycle (see post life in LDR if you don’t know what I’m referring to), I try to book myself solid in catching up with my other loved ones. By the end of week 1, I start to stress about all the plans I feel obligated to follow through on, which sparks up the anxious feelings. When I was in university, I was constantly busy, but due to my excuse of surprise assignments or homework, all of my plans were last minute and acceptable to others whether I could or could not make it. Now that my only commitment is work, it feels like it should be a lot easier to make solid plans to keep when I know at the end of the day I can clock out and go home. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve always lived in the moment, or if it’s because I procrastinate, or if it’s because I’m antisocial or self conscious or anxious at times, but it’s not that easy for me to be that way. During weeks that I’m working full or more than full time, it can be a challenge to get myself to the gym even, because I start to calculate how little “personal time” I have at home and start to stress about it, despite the fact that gym time actually is personal time and it enables personal growth and improvement. The way that I counteract this is by looking at my week and plan to go to the gym on days where I have a pretty open schedule. I do over estimate, because if I mark myself down for 5/7 gym days, by the time I miss two gym sessions I crack down on myself and make sure I fit the rest in. For other things like making plans with friends, I “under book” my plans so that if I have one lunch planned in the week, I don’t get overwhelmed looking at my schedule and feel safe to add in more plans later on if I don’t feel exhausted or too busy. It’s so important to figure out what is manageable for you in a way that is not putting unnecessary pressure on yourself, but that is also not underestimating your abilities to get things done.
Utilizing natural supports. Babe is so good at reminding me of when I start over-working myself or when it’s time for a break when he sees I’m working too much. He gives me the confidence to take days off where otherwise I might call myself lazy for only working 4/7 days in a week. I also talk to my mom about how frazzled I get when I’m swamped with plans, so she remains a fluid commitment to me where she offers me up plans, but doesn’t make me feel guilty when I say no. I have two other good friends who are very understanding and actually quite similar in this aspect, and so we may bail on each other 3 times in 3 weeks, but we know we’ll get to each other when we’re ready and that we only bail when it’s absolutely necessary, and so there’s no hard feelings. For people I don’t feel completely comfortable disclosing my commitment anxiety to, I like to let them know that my work schedule is hectic, that I often get called in last minute, and that it’s best if we stick to last minute plans in case work-related commitments come up. That way I have a reasonable excuse to cancel, and there’s no pressure on me to have a standing First-Tuesday-of-the-month brunch date that stresses me out every time it comes around. For those of you who aren’t sure who that support can be for you in times where you need moral support or no-guilt plans, try reflecting on your life to see who could step in for you. Maybe there’s a coworker you can trust, that can be available to text with the night you are supposed to have plans to remind you that you want to go. Maybe there’s a local drop in or volunteer group that doesn’t require a reason for why you do or do not show up, but that will be happy to see you each time you do. Although you can’t rely on others to take responsibility for you, you can reach out for help to those who are willing and able to, and you can let them pick what they’re capable of helping with.
Looking forward to the future, but not looking too far forward. In less than a month from now I’ll be jet setting off to visit Babe, which is something I’ve been excited about probably since the day before he left, since when it gets close to the time he leaves I already start to miss him. Even though this is a time of so much excitement for when we’ll be reunited, when I picture myself in France, and when I’ve pictured myself in Czech or Italy or Pennsylvania, I always experience anxiety when I realize what needs to get done in the time between now and when I leave. Instead of being excited to be together, I start to stress about whether or not I’ll have worked enough, about how I’m utilizing my time and all the time I wasted not spending it with the family and friends I won’t see for several weeks, and other things that really don’t deserve for me to break a sweat about. Instead, I look forward to the visit, we talk about the visit, but I try to focus on what I’m doing in the present and what I need to do in the near future to make sure I am stress free when I get there. Here’s a relatable example: you finish school for the year and you get out and enjoy your summer so much that before you even realize it, it’s August and you’re back in school next month, stressing about where all the time went and whether or not you spent your free time in the summer wisely or not. I think 9/10 classmates I’d talk to, or more, always felt this way. Instead of enjoying one more month of summer, we’re counting down the days to something else and wasting the time we have left. Although Babe is one of the best parts of my life, when I let my mind travel to being with him when I still have so much time and so much stuff going on before I’m actually there, I actually lose precious moments with my family, friends and self, that I’d probably otherwise cherish when I’m away from them. Counting down to Babe and talking about our plans when we’re together is so much fun, but I have to do a little daily reminder not to get too far ahead of myself to the point where I’m more stressed than excited.
With all of these tools in my box, I find that I’ve been managing better than ever at time management and stress & anxiety reduction. As I continue to go through my days, I will continue to add or change my tools in ways that help me to better organize and enjoy my life, but at the same time I’m trying to enjoy life and all its hills and valleys without trying to smooth the ride over too much.