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!

What’s up with adult coloring books??

As some of you may have noticed, numerous, shiny black and white coloring books for adults have been popping up in bookstores around the world. I can’t even tell you how many of my friends received one of these trendy, self-help books for Christmas, myself included. Are they a gimmick, and what are they even supposed to ‘do’ to you?

The main idea behind the coloring book is learning to engage in mindfulness. Basically, by letting your mind focus on keeping your brightly colored pencil within the lines, you are less likely let your mind drift to topics that may be worrisome or cause stress. The therapeutic properties of art have also been realized as often emotions can be expressed through art that cannot be said aloud. Dr. Joel Pearson, a brain scientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia said, “Concentrating on coloring an image may facilitate the replacement of negative thoughts and images with pleasant ones”.

During our hectic, crazy, wonderful lives it is increasingly important to have some relaxation time, or as I like to call it our RE-CREATION time. I often find myself rushing through the day from class, to meetings, to the gym without feeling like I have even had time to breathe. By taking time to sit down and focus on a menial task like coloring, I find that I can feel my physical and emotional batteries recharging – allowing for emotional space that enables me to recreate myself into the person I want to be.

My morning oatmeal, coffee and coloring

My morning oatmeal, coffee and coloring

Have you ever been engaged in a conversation with someone but you can’t take in anything they are saying because your internal monologue is running haywire? I often suffer from this and feel horrible because I am not giving that person the attention they deserve. By focusing my mind through an activity like coloring or meditation I am able to take more control over my inner voice and allow it to be quiet while I am interacting with others.

This all sounds well and good but stopping for 15 minutes during the day is hard. I always feel like I could, or should, be doing something more. But it helps me to remember that without a break, I will not be able to be fully present in the moment and that I will be so much more productive in the long run if I don’t run myself dry.

Overall, I do believe that adults coloring books can have huge benefits toward our mental health and wellbeing but they are definitely not for everyone. They are expensive, a little bit heavy and awkward to carry around, and would make me feel like a 5-year-old if I were to whip one out in class. BUT, creating space for mental recreation during the day is hugely important and should be as essential a part of our daily lives as going to the bathroom.


That being said, there are many different ways in which you can calm your mind. Here are a few with which I have been successful…

  • Mindful walking – go for a 15 minute stroll and try to notice things stimulating all of your different senses. Do not check your cell phone or social media. You can try setting a timer too so that you can resist the urge to check your watch.
  • Crocheting – I know it sounds like an activity for grandmothers but its very cheep and requires little attention so that your brain can rest.
  • Slowly sipping a hot drink – I often take myself out for a cuppa during a busy day. Putting down all of the work in front of me and simply just enjoy the feeling of the hot liquid filling my belly is very satisfying.
  • Reading a novel – there is something so magical about getting lost in a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good educational self-improvement book as well, but sometimes I think it is important to delve into a fantasy world for a few minutes.
  • If you are interested in coloring but aren’t ready to invest in a book, here are some free images online you can print off and color in to try it out.

I hope you all have a beautiful week,