Thursday, November 8, 2018

Don't Feed Your Inner Critic Cocaine

This year, I started my Master’s in Science Communication at Laurentian University. So far, I’d have to say it’s one of the best educational decisions I’ve made. I am, as my friends call me, a career student. What that essentially means is that while all my friends are settling down, becoming liberated from student loans, and getting their first ‘anythings’, I’m crawling through the unforgiving depths of academia with student loans that could get you a luxury car or three years of non-stop travelling around the world.

You must be wondering how I sleep at night. I sleep very well, thank you very much. (I’ve also gotten fairly good at lying to myself.)

Stress is no stranger to me. Once in a while, we’re friends. But for most of the time, it’s like trying to handle your overwhelming, crazy friend, Caitlin.

I have often found that any social media-related post on stress and stress management was in the form of a cliché inspirational quote or a list of self-care activities. Meditation is a consistent contender on these infamous lists. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that meditation will fix all my problems. 

So, I tried it.

Your first thought is probably that meditation fixed all my problems. Well, meditation didn’t make my problems disappear. Neither did any of those inspirational quotes. I won’t lie—it did help. Just not to the extent of what avid advocates made it out to be. 

It only took me two bachelor’s degrees in biology and neuroscience and working with over a hundred students to learn that stress management isn’t about doing damage control via scrolling through the internet reading inspirational quotes or doing #5 on a self-care list or Netflixing until I felt better. Stress management is like exercise: you need to find healthy activities to do and make it a habit. It won’t happen overnight, but it is doable. It’s also called stress management. It implies that this is an ongoing process that needs readjustments. If meditation doesn’t help, then that’s okay, as long as you find something that does help. One thing I reflected on after working as a mental wellness mentor was that self-care tools and strategies change over your lifetime too. What worked when you were in high school may not work when you’re pretending to be a real adult in the real world after graduation.

Sometimes, stress management is stepping away and taking a break. Many of us are notoriously bad at taking breaks. Society has ingrained in us that admitting that we need breaks and taking time off is a sign of weakness or laziness. We need to be better at equating physical health as being just as important mental health. You wouldn’t tell someone who has the flu, “You got sick because you were lazy.” See how silly that sounds?

Lastly, stress management is being kind to yourself. Sometimes, we need to tell our inner critics to shut up, because stress is like cocaine to our inner critic. Don’t let your inner critic have cocaine.

Happy International Stress Awareness Day.

- Ki-Youn Kim, SCOM 2019