Monday, December 13, 2010

how to reverse several weeks' worth of damage to your body in 2 days or less: part 1

Or, how i am definitely trying to do right by my body, but sometimes I slip up because I am a college student so please don’t judge me! (part 1)

So, there's this person I know. A person who I have seen a bit in the past week but not too much in the last few days where all the abuse I have been handing my body hard and fast in the name of Getting Shit Done has started to show itself. This person is going to be in Not-Troy for the next few days which will give me what I hope is 2 days of sweet, sweet recovery time for my tired, splotchy looking face and less-than-stellar mental capacities after the hard academic activities of the end of this semester. In other words: I am embarrassed by how horrible I look from overworking myself the last few weeks (but mainly the last week or so). And I want to fix it!

We all have experienced that unfortunate, inevitable moment in Academia where we look at our syllabi and realize: there is NO WAY these things can get done while keeping a normal sleep schedule. Sometimes it just works out that way. Sometimes it's due to laziness, sloppiness, or just bad planning. For me, it's almost always a little bit of all of those things.

This is my 2-part guide to Getting Shit Done, and then Cleaning Yourself Up After. Yes, it’s better to avoid the situation altogether. Yes, this is not always possible. After many years of learning, I’ve learned to be realistic about when assignments are and aren’t salvageable during daylight hours. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow.

My first rule: PLAN for whatever you need to do to get it done.

My biggest point is that planning for these situations can help a LOT. Look at your course schedules and see when the big crunch times will happen - that way, if it happens to all fall into several consecutive nights' worth of work (whether by chance or of your own doing) it's not a huge surprise or drag. And as a friend once said, you’re already going to be putting enough stress on your body – why put it in more stress by loading it up with junk food and ignoring the rest? Stocking up on fruits, veggies, snacks like fresh popcorn or sushi (maybe that's just me?) and TONS of water helps. It doesn’t need to be fancy. A few pieces of fruit from the dining hall and air popped popcorn kernels work for me. Exercising regularly  before the week or night of hell helps. Planning out naptimes - even if it's 20 minutes at a time - gives your body some times to rest. Take the next day off from work several days in advance.

Obviously, it bears repeating: if the whole situation can be avoided, that's ideal.

Example: Last week, I had major projects due on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Small victory for me: I made it to the gym the first 3 days of the week! I also was fighting off a hefty cold and knew I needed to at least sleep a few hours a night to avoid that awful situation. I kept myself alive and working through a series of coffee/5 hour maximum energy/20-30 minute nap binges for days at a time, followed by a crash and burn of sleeping all day and then pumping myself full of vitamin C/Airborne when I was awake on the off days. Then I repeated it all for Wednesday-Friday. It totally sucked.

But in the end it would have sucked even more if I hadn't thought it through and just expected work to magically get done during that week. And it was the last week of classes and everyone was experiencing a crunch. I hung out with friends on study dates instead of lingering over meals, and chatted online about project requirements instead of the latest class gossip. Important points here!

Second rule: DO whatever you need to do to get it done. Yeah, it might be easier to treat yourself better throughout the whole process. But in the end, it almost always breaks down because of overcommitment. So first do what you can to keep up, and add in the extras after. Manage what is manageable before overloading yourself. If things don't work out as planned, they didn't work out. Pick up the pieces and keep trucking. Eat when you have to eat. Ignore your inbox (I can't even tell you what a wreck mine is right now), stop taking calls, don't answer text messages. Keep asking yourself: "is the work I'm doing now better than being asleep?" If it's not, go to bed and worry about picking up the pieces in the morning.


(this badly Photoshopped brushwork is a tribute to how pathetic this line up around my bed is)
Powerade, Nyquil (for the cold), green tea chai, clementines, and face lotion: how I prepare

I don't need anyone to tell me this cycle is unhealthy. I sure as heck know. After Thursday's all-out experience (in which I had a Flash project due at 8am Friday, directly after my project due at 4pm Thursday), I am very aware that my body needed to recover. I much more enjoyed Wednesday's sleep-until-11:30,-work-all-day-on-my-Information-Design-project pace. I had that project done during the light of day. It was fantastic! But that schedule is not always realistic and only worked because I thought to take the day off from work (and used up a remaining absence in a course that was meeting that afternoon).

After last week, I treated my body and mind to lots of sleep, vitamins, and healthy food this past weekend. But here I am again, 7 hours away from a 30-page thesis paper due, and the cycle is continuing. The only difference is I know this is going to be one of the last ones of my academic career!

But I digress.

My point is in finding recovery from this awful slough of mistreatment and stress. I am currently working those parts out and trying them in the next two days. I'll be reporting back on them tomorrow, where I'll continue with part 2 of this series.

Wish me luck!

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