I was reflecting today with my roommate about business school. The one adjective that we both used most frequently to describe our experience thus far is STRESSFUL.
Classes, recruiting, industry conferences, networking, club events, school socials, case competitions etc. Individually these tasks are all manageable and can be fun/useful, but combined it’s a nightmare. Each one takes time and saps mental energy. With this relentless stream of work and a short time frame in which to get everything done, I never get to feel like I’m caught up. I’m always catching up. After 65 consecutive weeks of feeling this way, I’m actually a bit surprised I haven’t developed an anxiety disorder (or have I?).
The following outlines a few of the steps I try to take to manage my stress. All of them are really common sense, but I think it is the deliberate application and daily practice of them which have prevented me from having a nervous breakdown.
1. Sleep. Should be obvious that everyone should strive for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night. I actually have terrible sleeping habits and sometimes suffer from insomnia. But if I don’t sleep enough at night, I’ll try to take naps to make up the deficit. Not getting enough sleep not only taxes the body and mind, it makes you less productive after a restless night. Having done this enough times to realize my physical limits, I’ve noticed that I can go two days max with less than 4 hours of sleep before I suffer a significant decrease in cognitive performance. It’s harder to remember things. Obvious connections become not obvious at all. My immune systems gets noticeably weaker. I usually feel pretty sickly by the beginning of day 3.
2. Eat healthy. Now I hate cooking and am lazy as fuck when it comes to kitchen related matters. But what I eat has a tremendous impact on how I feel throughout the day. I periodically will go on a puritanical raw food or vegan diet. This never lasts more than two weeks because I love eating animals too much, however these diets always make me feel noticeably more energetic, relaxed, and clear minded. I’m not perfect. If free pizza is offered I will still pig out. But if I am cooking at home I make a concentrated effort to buy fresh organic food from the grocery store.
3. Daily exercise. Even if its for 15-20 minutes. This prevents me from gaining an ungodly amount of weight due to the copious drinking that happens at networking events at business school. Regular exercise makes a huge difference in how I feel. I sleep better. I retain information better. Exercise time is “me” time and allows me to reflect on stressful issues and helps me deal with them and relax. Plus it keeps my gf attracted to me.
4. Say no to extra work. I notice that when I’m under a lot of stress, I have a tendency to oversimplify things. An example is when I was working with a developer on a new app. We encountered a problem and the developer proposed a solution. I didn’t have time and I didn’t want to double check his work because I had ten other more pressing issues to take care of, so I told him to just go with it. The solution ended up not being a good long term answer because the developer didn’t understand the ramifications of the change on the entire business, and we had to rework the entire issue over again. Lesson learned. Lots of issues require some level of complex cognitive thought to realize a good solution. I realize that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to fix a problem, but you always need to take the time to think through the situation. My solution for when I start to feel that I’m starting to commit the sin of over-simplifying – I just commit less to other people. I try to be upfront and tell people I’m overloaded. I say no to new projects and sometimes even drop existing ones. I hate doing this, but people always seem understand and I’ve never regretted it afterwards.