After watching the documentary about stress and discussing stress factors both in and out of our control, Professor Clancy suggested we rate ourselves in various areas of stress control in our own lives, then choose a few lower-ranked areas and work to improve those. Here are the rankings I gave myself:
Time manamgement: 6
Who you hang out with: 9
Eating habits: 9.5
Notice my extremely high score for eating habits--I went from being vegetarian to vegan about a month ago and I'm very happy with my food right now (I would have said 10 if I was eating mostly raw, unprocessed food). I think it has actually contributed a lot to my overall happiness and stress level. Other very highly ranked areas for me at the moment are the people I hang out with (I love all my friends to death and spending time with them always improves my mood), my sleep schedule (recently I've early to bed and early to rise), and my commitment, which I think stems from my passion for everything I'm doing right now, from classes to clubs and volunteering.
Some lower-ranked areas include exercise, time management, and mood/attitude. I have made efforts to improve these things in the past couple days. I despise running, but in an attempt to get a little more activity in my life, I made effort to walk to and from classes again, especially because the weather has been so lovely and warm for February. I think that this not only helped me as any light exercise would, but also allowed me time to be with my thoughts and enjoy the scenery. This naturally improved my mood very much as well, but I ended up having other issues with my mood and attitude recently, and I'll talk about those in a minute. In terms of time management, I organized a list of everything I needed to get done and actually worked during the afternoons so that I could feel less stressed at night and while participating in extracurriculars.
I would say the most difficult thing for me to consciously improve was my mood. On Wednesday night, I got an e-mail from Phi Delta Epsilon, a Pre-Med fraternity I had interviewed for, letting me know that I hadn't made it to the second round of interviews. Even though I knew it was a rather competitive frat to get into, I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't even made it past the first interview when so many people I knew did. I wondered if there was something wrong with me as a person--maybe this was a sign that I'm not truly confident about myself or ready to be involved in more competitive extracurriculars. Maybe this was a sign that I'd have the same kind of trouble when applying to medical school. Maybe I wouldn't be accepted into anything requiring an application in all my four years of college. All these insecurities are obviously completely ridiculous--I know I'm a smart, engaging, thoughtful person who is absolutely qualified to do everything I dream of doing. However, rejection can really affect a person's mood in a very negative way if that person has difficulty controlling their mood.
I made it past this dent in my mood and attitude by simply focusing on other aspects of stress-control. Since my eating habits are highest-ranked for me, I think they are what saved my mood. I don't think of comfort food as unhealthy or rebelliously satisfying. I think of comfort food as extremely satisfying because of its healthy and delicious qualities. Today I had a delicious lunch of Chili and a tofu, broccoli, black bean, and brown rice dish at a cute vegetarian restaurant in the company of great friends. For dinner, I had an amazing home-cooked meal of spicy stir-fried rice and vegetables. Before even eating any of the aromatic food on my plate, I realized that I was already feeling happier and all the out-of-control stressers suddenly didn't matter at all.
For me, food seems to be the best comfort. It is the thing I can best control that I know will always produce results and make me happier. Plus, nutrition is one of the things I am most passionate about, so not only does food improve my mood, it also reminds me of the purpose and importance I see in my life. I've learned that by improving and focusing on just one or two aspects of stress-control helps everything else fall into place. Having good eating habits improves my mood, eliminates stress-related sleeping problems, gives me something to be committed to, and even makes me feel more encouraged to make healthy choices about exercise.