By Ester Latifi
It can be hard to think positively. As university students, we deal with significant amounts of stress on an almost-daily basis, so when things go wrong outside of school, our natural instinct is to get frustrated and, sometimes, lash out in our anger. Personally, I can think of a few instances where I reacted to something a little more aggressively than I should have at people who genuinely meant well. When we’re already stressed and on edge, it’s like every little thing adds up, and it only takes one comment to stir the pot just enough to cause an overflow.
When I was still living with my parents, I was out for coffee with my sister and one of my friends one evening after a particularly long week of assignments and readings. I was just beginning to unwind and feel relaxed, and when 7:00 rolled around, my friend asked us if we wanted to just stay and grab something to eat. This was back before I had my own car, and because of that, I had to make sure it was okay with my mom for me to stay out a bit later with her car. My mom essentially ended up telling me that we would have to make dinner plans for another night because she needed her van back, adding that we had been out for a while already and that we might consider coming home to hang out with the rest of the family (being that it had been a busy week and we hadn’t seen each other much). In the moment, I felt frustrated because we were having a good time; my sister and I ended up going home extremely unimpressed. Looking back, I’m able to see that my reaction was a bit uncalled for; my mom had simply pointed out that she hadn’t seen me much that week and commented that she’d like for me to spend some time at home because she missed me. In the moment, I was only able to see from the stress-induced perspective that she was cutting my time with my friend short, and now I’m a bit ashamed of the silent treatment I gave my family that night.
I’m sure all of you can relate to moments like those. We get so caught up with everything going on that we fail to see things for what they really are. Rather than sympathising with my mom that night, I chose to give her an attitude, and I know that isn’t the only time I’ve behaved that way with people in general. Among other times that I let the heat of the moment cloud my judgment, that night pushed me to reconsider the way I chose to perceive things. Why is it so natural to react negatively rather than try to see the good in various situations? Though I still have a long way to go, I thought I’d share with you the strategies I’ve adopted in order to turn frustration into something a bit more constructive, which will hopefully lead to you being able to pick out the good in even the most humdrum situation.
- Start a gratitude journal.
Something I’ve incorporated into my daily regime is a gratitude journal. I know of a few people who have been using these for a long time, and I remember looking at them and thinking, “hey, this is pretty neat.” A gratitude journal is like a normal journal; instead of writing about your day or venting your frustrations, however, you write the things you’re thankful for or things that made your day flow a little more smoothly. Typically these entries are a short list of three things, though you can definitely expand that list if your day went really well.
I started my gratitude journal on a night I was feeling pretty low and unmotivated, and though it was hard to think of even one thing at first, I was feeling significantly better by the time I wrapped up the entry. I remember writing that I was thankful to have a family who cared enough to want to spend time with me (even though it sometimes felt like they were inhibiting my social life), having access to my mom’s vehicle at all (the alternative would be having to take public transit, bum rides, or Uber), and getting a goodnight text from my boyfriend every single night (I’m a sucker for the small things). Two of the items on that list were things that I’d regularly complained about, but written in the context of a gratitude journal, I was able to see them in a slightly different light that my frustration had previously shrouded.
- Be nice to yourself.
Another thing I’ve been doing lately is working on being nicer to myself. As the cliche goes, we are our own worst critics; I’m especially hard on myself at times, and I can easily go from already being in a bad mood to being in an anxiously bad mood as I slowly pick myself apart. Self-care is so important, especially when you’re a student who’s struggling to keep grades up, keep a job, pay rent and insurance, exercise, eat healthy, and maintain a social life. As well, if you can’t treat yourself right, it’ll be harder to keep stable friendships. I’ve always struggled with comparing myself to others, so every day, I try to think of one thing about myself that I like and then hype that thing up to myself throughout the day. Having a good hair day? Rock that hair. Check yourself out when you walk by a mirror and admire how good your hair looks. You’re allowed to love yourself!
- Make it a point to do at least one good thing for yourself per day.
This next one is related to the last. Though it’s rare for any of us to have the budget to go out for retail therapy, I’d encourage all of you to focus on doing at least one good thing for yourself every day. This might mean going on a walk, watching an episode of your favourite show on Netflix, taking a hot bath, playing an instrument, or taking a break from your daily whirlwind of activities to just meditate and breathe. Whatever makes you feel good, do that. Time will go by no matter what you’re doing, so taking even just a few minutes from your day for yourself is more than worth it, and it definitely beats spending those few minutes feeling distressed over deadlines. I like listening to music, so when I’m feeling bummed out, I’ll make myself a cup of tea and listen to a record or two; it’s a great way to distract myself from life’s daily routine and helps me reconnect with myself so I don’t go completely insane. It clears my head, allowing me to think rationally and reduce the amount of times I lash out at people. If you’re constantly stressed, your thought process won’t be as rational and you’ll feel more frustrated as a result.
- Get moving!
Physical activity is also pretty great way to keep yourself healthy not only physically, but mentally as well. Even just a 20-minute workout facilitates information processing and memory functions, so when gym junkies say that working out clears their heads, they’re telling the truth. We’re at about the midpoint of the winter semester and there are a lot of deadlines coming at us from all angles; frustration and irritability are at their peaks, so it might be worth considering to take a half hour to just go on a walk or hit the gym. If you don’t have access to a gym or if you’re on a time limit, there are apps you can get that put workouts together for you based on how much time you have to work with and which body part you would like to target. The best part is that you don’t even need any equipment, so you can even do them in your room! My favourites are Sworkit and Yoga Studio.
Your mind is an incredible thing. If you’re able to improve the way you think as well as cultivate methods for dealing with things that go wrong, it suddenly becomes easier to see the good in situations that aren’t the greatest. I’m not saying that everything is sunshine and roses–there will definitely be days where everything seems to fall apart and people are jerks–but if you can make your negative thoughts less overpowering, it makes handling those obstacles so much easier. I personally think it’s nicer being able to look for the things that went right at the end of a bad day rather than stewing over the things that didn’t and going to bed miserable. If you only focus on the bad things, it puts you in a negative state that will impact both you and your relationships for the worse.
I’m not a psychologist by any means, but as a fellow student, I understand that school is accompanied by high volumes of panic and more assignments than you feel you can handle at times. These everyday worries tend to add up and, as a result, make us question everything else in our lives. Working towards a healthier mindset is an excellent way to ensure that we don’t lose our tempers when someone asks to borrow a pen, but the most important benefit of all these things is that it’ll help you keep your own cool. We’re already busy, so we might as well do what we can to minimize the amount of time we spend hating our lives and instead work towards making the best of situations that flat-out suck. I t-boned a meridian on the Yellowhead last week because of a reckless driver, and even though that was a relatively traumatic experience, the good thing is that I’m okay and my car’s front bumper is the only thing that suffered any damage.
Even if you’re going through a series of bleak events, I promise that things can get better! Actively look for the things that make life worth living and take care of yourself. Look forward to the good even when it seems like you have nothing going for you. As the Beatles famously said, “tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun.”