Dealing with deadlines

Happy (almost) Halloween, everyone! This week I want to chat about a truly chilling and spooky topic, deadlines. When it comes to deadlines, are you like the stressed out, frightening pumpkin on the left (pictured above) or the happy, light hearted pumpkin to the right? For me, I have always been the stressed out, scary person when facing deadlines. However, mindfulness has been helping me stay like the happy pumpkin even in the face of deadlines.

Graduate school is full of deadlines. Proposal submissions, progress reports, manuscript revisions, teaching related requirements, and the list goes on. I’m currently coming up on my annual progress report for my thesis work which entails a meager 5-pages of proposal style text + unlimited figures & tables and a 20-minute presentation to be given during a 2 hour meeting with my dissertation advisory committee (DAC). Generally, the meeting is held to benefit the student’s work and ensure the student is making adequate progress towards degree completion. My first DAC meeting was a very positive experience (unlike my preliminary qualifying examination) and I’m optimistic for this year’s meeting. Despite knowing the meeting is held for the student’s benefit, I always find myself amplifying + fixated on the same endless worries of grad school: have I done enough, and am I good enough? Sound familiar?

Usually during this time of year (e.g. my DAC deadline), I’m a ball of stress. This year is different. I’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation daily since May, and I’ve been noticing its benefits in many aspects of my daily life. Being mindful has really improved how I handled my deadline this year. I was more proactive in the early stage than I used to be, and noticed I was more present when I was working and less anxious or overwhelmed by the task of summarizing my last year’s worth of thesis work. I still experienced a dull, low sense of pressure in the few weeks leading up to my deadline and did have one day of crazy stress, but, as strange as it sounds, I was better connected to myself and handled these feelings better than I used to. For me personally, I have a large appreciation for how mindfulness meditation has helped me understand and face my emotions and reactions in life. If you struggle with stress and anxiety from work and life or maybe you just want to handle deadlines better, then I recommend giving mindfulness meditation a try. If you don’t know how to get started, I recommend checking out the free app, Insight Timer. Feel free to join our community, “Mindful Scholars,” on there and connect with fellow scholars trying to build a mindful perspective in graduate school.

Feeling overwhelmed?

Have you recently experienced that feeling of having a mountain range pressing across your shoulders, burdening you with sensations of anxiety and tension? Maybe you’ve been juggling too many obligations and you feel like you’ve spread yourself too thin. Perhaps you also have the feeling that nothing you do is actually working, like you are a hamster trapped endlessly running on one of those wheels (ahem, grad school in a nutshell). I’ve been encumbered by these feelings on-and-off for the last several weeks. Luckily for me, my mindfulness practice has recently progressed to two guided meditations that seem ideal for these situations: 1. exploring difficulty and 2. befriending.

For me, the exploring difficulty meditation has helped me face and accept those challenges that are outside of my control, and better understand how I physically and emotionally react to those challenges subconsciously. For instance, I noticed that my shoulders and neck will be the first thing to tense up when I’m upset or overwhelmed. Since bringing awareness to this bodily response, I incorporate more stretches and motions to reduce that tension in a mindful manner. Now when I find myself in the shadow of the anxiety mountain, I steal myself back to the moment- take a deep breath and gently tilt my head from side-to-side, feeling my neck muscles stretch and ache in response. This helps bring me back from the brink of bad moods and unhappiness when I allow myself to linger in sensations of anxiety.

I’m often guilty of focusing too much energy and effort on things that aren’t working or that I don’t know. As a perfectionist, I even blame myself for something not working or for not knowing something. The befriending meditation has helped me bring kindness to myself, something I’ve always struggled with. This meditation has also helped me to realize that I can allow myself to be happy with who I am. Furthermore, I should congratulate myself for making incremental progress towards those larger goals and taking note of those new things (however small or insignificant they seem) that I learn everyday. It’s important to remember that everything takes time, and time will always progress. You will remember the past, you may look forward to the future, but be sure to live now with loving kindness for yourself.

P.S. If you are interested in the guided meditations I’ve mentioned in this blog post, you can find them freely available¬†here.