Are you stressed or just busy?

Taking a break from my busy life by exploring New Mexico

A lot of people, myself included, throw around the word “stress” whenever they feel that they have a lot on their plate. It almost seems like being stressed, or saying you’re stressed, is the cool thing to do in college and in life in general. I have found myself in numerous conversations with people competing about who has gotten less sleep or who has more midterms. “I stayed up till 3am studying” gets a “wow you’re so committed” rather than a “wow, your time management skills must suck”. Since when was denying your brain and body sleep something to be praised? In my opinion, we need to save the word “stress” for when it is really warranted and try to reframe our daily chaotic lives as “busy-ness”.

Taking a (spring) break from my busy schedule by exploring New Mexico

Taking a (spring) break from my busy schedule by exploring New Mexico

I recently listened to multiple TED Talks about stress and learned some pretty amazing things. Researchers have shown that the way you think about stress actually effects what stress does to your body. People who think stress is harmful and something that should be avoided are a lot more likely to have stress-induced heart attacks, binge eating and violent outburst. This completely shocked me. I didn’t understand how just thinking something was bad for you could make it bad for you. I had to get to the bottom of it.

Turns out its all about how you frame stress in your mind. For example, I had two midterms, one paper, 15 hours of paid work, 10 hours of job shadowing, 15 hours of class, two homework assignments and a dog to take care of all in one week. Now I could be completely stressed from all of this, or I could just be busy. Being stressed associates negative connotations with all of the activities I have planned for that week. I might start to loathe the fact that I have so much schoolwork and forget how lucky I am to be getting an amazing education in a town I love. I might let myself get grumpy and not reply to my friend’s messages because “I’m just so stressed”. Framed as stressful, I probably won’t enjoy my week at all as the weekend is the bright stress-free light at the end of the tunnel pulling me through. On top of this, my health will deteriorate at a much faster rate than if I were simply busy.

Norlin Library - CU Boulder during finals week

Norlin Library – CU Boulder during finals week (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Instead, if I chose to see all of my activities as the fragments of my life that help keep me busy, productive and entertained, I might have a better week. Framing tests as a way to challenge my brain (a little bit like a bike race from my memory) and job shadowing as an opportunity to explore my future career choices, makes my week sound exciting rather than stressful. I might be busy, but busy is good. I remind myself that I like being busy, thrive off of doing as many things in my day as I can, and always get sad when I’m bored. Even though I am doing the same things, by not being “stressed” I am able to have a more enjoyable week and my health is improved!

My challenge to you this week: See how you can reframe your “stress” as “busy-ness” and tell someone about it! For example, tell someone how you are so excited about all the things you will accomplish this week rather than complaining to them about all of the things you have to do. Don’t join in with the lack of sleep competition but relish your sleep as you know it makes you so much more productive the next day!

Anxiety Series Part Two: Coping Skills

In my last entry I shared my journey going off of SSRI’s. Today I want to talk about what I do instead, given that anxiety and its management are an ongoing part of who I am.

Some of my tips for managing daily anxiety:

Phone a friend – When my anxiety is bad I feel like my head is spinning with too many inner thoughts and voices. It helps during these times to talk to someone else as it is harder for your inner dialogue to be as crazy when you are actually communicating with another living being. Sometimes I’ll talk to the person about my anxiety and think of ways to overcome it but other times chatting about a non-related topic helps. For example, sometimes while doing my homework at night with the door closed my anxiety builds up. During these moments it helps to knock on my roommate’s door, sit on her floor and talk about our days, watch ironic Donald Trump videos and eat chips and salsa. Being in the moment helps to curb the anxious tendencies and calms my mind.

Give up caffeine – One of the huge things that made a big difference in my baseline anxiety levels  has been giving up caffeine. I feel that my energy is much more stable throughout the day and that I have an easier time keeping my mind on track and being present in the moment. I was a pretty big coffee and black tea drinker in the past so it was hard for me to give up the warming drink. Luckily I have really been enjoying Dandy coffee alternative, which is a 100% natural plant based powder that tastes like coffee but is caffeine free.


Having a cozy cup of tea with breakfast.

Having a cozy cup of tea with breakfast.

15 minute brain breaks – At the beginning of each day, or the night before, I try to schedule three 15 minute blocks in the day where I can stop whatever productive activity I am doing and just be present. Usually I have one in the morning, one around lunch or between two classes and one after dinner. I like to use these times to sit on a bench and people watch, listen to Justin Beiber extremely loudly and have a dance party or even pull out my coloring book and have a little drawing session. I find that when I forget to take these breaks I can feel my anxiety building up throughout the day and I am getting ready to explode at night.

An awesome brain break is getting out in nature (neat-ure).

An awesome brain break is getting out in nature (neat-ure).


Sunday night preparation – I started to notice a pattern that if my Sunday afternoon/night was hectic, I would feel stressed on Monday morning, which would set me up to have a bad week. On Sunday night I like to take a few hours by myself to get mentally ready for the week ahead of me. This involves getting out my class syllabi and copying any due dates into my planner, as well as any other important meetings or appointments during the week. I also like to do laundry, clean my room, send any emails I have been putting off etc etc. I think Sunday night is a perfect time to have some “me” time too as most people are tired from the weekend and you’re unlikely to be missing out on anything super fun.


So there you have it; a few things that have worked well for me in the past couple of months since going of SSRI’s. Overall I feel extremely empowered to have made the transition off of medication but I think a better way to frame it is that I changed the way I coped with my anxiety, rather than just quitting one way of coping. I think it is very important to use other tools in our lives such as support systems, self-care and mindfulness to manage our emotions so that we are free to live a more authentic reality.


A Challenge for you this week:

Be vulnerable with someone. It could be simply being honest that you dislike your new haircut, or opening up to a friend about struggling with anxiety. Letting my guard down and being vulnerable about my anxiety in ways such as “phoning a friend” has helped me learn to be less judgmental about parts of myself.  Vulnerability allows us to make deeper connections as we expose more of ourselves. It may be tough but it is empowering.

If you have any questions about anxiety or would like to talk about your journey, please reach out to me!

Sending love,


Anxiety Series Part One: Getting off the Drugs

Getting off antidepressants and learning to manage anxiety on my own: 

A little over three months ago, after being fed up with numerous side effects and realizing that I wanted to see what my natural state of mind was, I decided to stop taking SSRI’s. SSRI’s are pharmaceutical drugs, prescribed to alleviate depression and anxiety by blocking receptors in your brain that usually absorb serotonin. This leaves serotonin, otherwise known as the happiness chemical, floating around in your brain, hopefully resulting in a more pleasant, less anxious day-to-day life experience.

By no means am I against SSRI’s or antidepressants. I believe that there are many situations in which people can benefit from these drugs, and that overall they have definitely aided in my recovery. But, I do believe there is a time where your metal health is stable enough that reliance on a drug that alters your reality may not be necessary. After 4 years of being on SSRI’s I believed that I had reached this point and wanted to challenge myself to see if I could manage my mental state in other ways.

I began talking to my physiatrist and we made a plan to reduce my dose slowly and taper off my SSRI. First of all, I am extremely thankful that I went through this process under the supervision of a trained professional and do not believe I would have had such a successful experience if I had tried on my own or had stopped taking pills cold “tofurkey”. That being said, it was a difficult process and I am still coming out the other side. I hope my story will help any of you going through similar processes. I find it helpful to remember that things often get a little worse or harder before they get better.


Weeks 1 – 4

At this stage I reduced from 100mg – 12.5mg dropping the dose each week. I really didn’t notice any big changes in my mood or outlook on life. I didn’t feel more anxious, stressed or sad and my night sweats stopped! This was a huge bonus for me as night sweats due to SSRI’s had prevented me from having a good night sleep for the past 4 years. I also found that I could feel my emotions more. On numerous occasions that month I laughed so hard I cried, which was something that hadn’t happened in a while.

Getting the giggles with my best friend after recently stopping SSRI's

Getting the giggles with my best friend after recently stopping SSRI’s

Weeks 4-6

These were the first two weeks I was off SSRI’s all together. The drugs were probably still in my system at a low dose but definitely much lower than before. I was fine for the most part during this time. A little sad for no reason, and restless, but overall content and proud that I was officially off medication. I practiced taking it easy on myself over these weeks and trying to see the bigger picture rather than dwelling on the feelings of sadness. It helped to remind myself that everyone feels sad sometimes.


Weeks 6 – 10

This is when it hit me. The feelings of anxiety crept up and engulfed me in a huge way. I would lie awake at night with constant random words and picture running through my head. Nothing made sense. I was foggy in school and felt like I was watching myself live my life rather than living it. This feeling of dissociating really scared me as I felt like I had no control over my mind and body. I had feelings of wanting to rip off my skin, as I felt so uncomfortable in my own body. I had forgotten how bad my anxiety was, as the SSRI’s really had been masking it all these years. I called my mom in tears on numerous occasions due to the fear of having a panic attack or the realization that maybe I want ready for this and that maybe I still needed the SSRI’s to keep my brain stable.

I then had a very motivating talk with my therapist who explained what I was experiencing to me in the best way. She said that the SSRI’s I had been taking were equivalent to meditating for 3 hours a day for my anxiety levels and that I couldn’t possibly take away this drug and not replace it with another form of treatment. This shocked me as I had assumed that I would be able to stop the medication and move on with my life free from anxiety. But through this conversation I realized that this is going to be something I will have to deal with my whole life and that I just need to find different ways to manage my anxiety now that I do not have the help of the drugs.

Finding new ways to manage my anxiety while hiking in New Zealand

Finding new ways to manage my anxiety while hiking in New Zealand

Weeks 10 and onward

After week 10 I had developed numerous ways to cope with my anxiety while being a busy junior in college, balancing school, work, friends, family and other hobbies. I have developed numerous strategies (stay tuned for the next post- in which I will share my favorites!) to help maintain calm and manage my daily stress. I have not had a serious incidence of anxiety since week 10 and am able to assess my levels throughout the day in order to adjust my schedule and minimize my anxiety. I honestly never thought I would get to this point, during weeks 7 and 8 I was even considering getting back on the medication and putting this whole thing into the too-hard box. But now, looking back on it, I am glad that I pushed through. I think I was ready to see what my mind was like without being altered and I was in such a good place in my recovery that I could finally use all of the tools I have learned to actually manage my anxiety on my own. Being off SSRI’s is empowering as I now feel like I am in control and capable of anything.


A Challenge for you this week

We all have some coping strategies that we know in our hearts are not the best thing for us. For example drinking at night in order to relax after a hard day, or working out obsessively to reduce stress. This is also how I view the SSRI medication I was on. I challenge you this week to try a new, more authentic, coping strategy instead of relying on a quick fix that is habitual to you. Instead of using a beer to relax, try reading a book or going for an after dinner walk. The options are endless and I know you will feel better in the long run.

Have an amazing week!!