First weekend back

Westchester County, NY

It’s been a week now since I came back from my trip to Sweden, and I already feel like I miss it. It went by way too quickly, partly because it was actually only a short amount of time (6 full days), but mostly because the week was absolutely packed and filled to the brim with seeing people, doing fun things, and just enjoying being home. (I will write a post about the trip soon, as well as one about my friends’ visit earlier in June!) But being able to spend the weekend in New York at my grandparents’ place definitely alleviated some of that back-to-work-after-vacation dread.

On Friday, after spending a few hours in the morning at work, I drove up to New York and stopped to have lunch with my boyfriend on the way. As always when I visit my grandparents’, the weekend was wonderful and spent relaxing, cooking and eating great food, and having a fun time with family and friends.

One of my absolute favorite things is going for a run or brisk walk around the lake in the morning, when the heat isn’t yet too overwhelming, and the community is just starting to wake up. It’s something I do very rarely as I usually only have time to work out in the afternoons after work, but starting the day off with some alone time and exercise really puts me in a balanced state of mind for the rest of the day. Maybe “balanced” is the wrong word, but more at peace? Grounded? Even listening to music or a podcast (love listening to Swedish podcasts, it makes me feel like I’m at home!) and getting some exercise makes me so relaxed for the rest of the day.

I’m starting to feel a little anxious about my research project for the summer. It’s baffling that it’s July already (where did the first third of summer go?!), and I know my to-do list is still heavy and filled with stuff that I really should get done before school starts again in September — even things that are unrelated to my research.

How did I think I would have so much time to work over the summer, when I now find myself struggling to find time to even feel fully relaxed or do the social/fun things I want to do? Shouldn’t there be enough time in a normal week to go to work, exercise, rest, be social, AND work on my academic projects? Or did I just entirely overestimate how much time I would have (time during which I feel enough energy to work, at least) over the summer, not taking into account the fact that I almost have a full time job? I’m pretty sure I tend to overestimate those kinds of things, to be fair.

I think I just need to sit down and make an actual plan for the remaining weeks of the summer, and most of all start making use of the time I have at home after work on weekdays. And I need to be honest with myself; no expectations, routines, or due dates that I know I won’t keep. Although coming home from work at about 5PM and doing nothing for the rest of the night besides watch TV shows isn’t really the key to productivity, that’s still an important part of relaxing, too. I think I probably need at least some of that to have enough energy come fall.

I worry that this is going to be what the rest of my life will look like if I do decide to have an academic career; always feeling like there’s work I could be (and SHOULD be) doing outside of my scheduled hours, and never feeling like anything is enough. After all, if your work is basically doing research and writing, it’s not something you can leave at the office door at the end of the day. It comes home with you. Particularly over the summer, when there’s hardly any structure at all and you’re constantly feeling like you could be writing, instead of doing whatever else you might be doing. How do you even begin to balance that?

As far as I can tell, most accomplished academics are still trying to figure that out. So maybe it’s ok if I haven’t yet, either.

Is mindset really everything?

THOUGHTS — What really is a Sunday without stressing out about the week ahead? After not doing absolutely any work the whole weekend, I spent a good part of Sunday night frantically doing some reading for class and trying not to be overwhelmed by the upcoming busy week. Since I’m leaving for LA on Thursday night and won’t be able to go to work on Friday, I somehow have to find time to not only make up those hours at some other point this week but also to pack and start working on my first important assignment that is due October 5th. And yes, I am aware that I am complaining about “first-world” problems. But that awareness doesn’t make anything much less stressful, unfortunately.

I spent some time at work today listening to a podcast while typing numbers into an Excel spreadsheet (riveting, right?). I haven’t ever been particularly interested in podcasts, but more and more I’ve started enjoying listening to Swedish podcasts; in a way, it’s just nice and comforting for me to listen to people speaking in my native language when all I hear is English all the time. Also, I think listening to the language could help me keep up my conversational Swedish, which my mom always tells me is “so terrible!” whenever I visit home. The podcast I listened to today happened to be about “being grateful”, “mindfulness” and all that other stuff that I would normally dismiss as silly fantasy ideas for people who actually don’t have anything to be stressed about. However, in an attempt to embody a more mature and open-minded version of myself, I actually took the time to listen to what these two Swedish women had to say.

The main point they were making was basically that stress is manageable and that happiness is achievable as long as you just have a positive mindset. An important aspect of a positive mindset, according to these two happy and stress-free women, is about spending more energy on being grateful rather than seeing the negative in the situation and complaining about it. But is mindset really everything? What about the material reality of everything that is causing you to be stressed in the first place? Can thoughts really make all of that go away?

I like to think that I’m a pretty negative person. Just kidding, obviously no one likes to think that about themselves. But I do think that I’m usually rather cynical, prone to complaining, and generally avoid having a positive outlook on things. Rather than seeing these aspects of my thinking as inherent personality traits, however, it might be more productive for me to think of them as a mindset, which I can change and control at my will. Why should I be complaining about my situation and allowing the stress to overwhelm me when I can instead focus on the good things? The fact that I’m going to LA (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), that I’m in a PhD program and I worked so hard to get here (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!); these are all fantastic things that I should be happy about.

I am rather ashamed to admit that I clearly took this podcast episode to heart. But when I sat down to make a to-do list for myself for the week, with specific things to do on specific days, I ended up feeling positive about my situation rather than overwhelmed precisely because I thought to myself: I can do this, and I can get everything done.

The women also spoke about how your happiness can be dramatically increased if you sit down every day and write down three things that you are grateful for in that moment, as a way of teaching your brain to focus on the positives and practicing gratefulness. I think I might actually try this out and see how it works; after all, what’s the worst thing that can happen? That I don’t have anything to be grateful for? And there I go again being cynical, whoops. But all joking aside, I’m going to try to do this every night and see if it works.

Three things I am grateful for today:

  1. Fall weather.
  2. The people I love.
  3. Post-it notes.

flat lay photography of calendar
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