Stressed Much?

With our spotlight being on students this Spring, we’d like to share a paper written by a fellow Tulane student, Sarah Gilman. Here she shares her struggles with stress and how the practice of yoga has helped.

Stressed much? I nearly collapse when I see my email fill up with notifications from canvas about the 10 assignments I have to do, along with the 3 tests coming up ALL
next week. We’ve all been there- especially during midterm/final week. We are all students at Tulane University- a prestigious college with a HEAVY workload. I know
other schools think we spend most of our time partying because we have Mardi Gras,
crawfest etc..but we don’t. If you ask a Tulane student where their favorite place is to
socialize you may come across an answer you wouldn’t expect- Howie T, our library. We literally spend so many hours there that students eat full meals there, proven by the crumbs left on the fifth floor desks. We may as well add showers to the bathrooms because a ton of us pull all-nighters. My point is, we are stressed. And why are we stressed? We are held to SUCH high standards! Our parents, our peers, our advisors, our teachers all truly expect the best from us. Honestly, it is fair because we are graduating seniors, entering the real world this year. We should be held to high standards because we will be once we get real jobs.

So what do we do with all this stress and pressure to be something in this “real
world”? Unfortunately, a lot of students let it break them. I’ve personally seen friends cry in the library as they buckle from the stress of their current workload while applying to Ph.D. programs. I’ve personally seen students binge drink the night before a test because 2 they “just can’t study anymore”. I personally understand what it’s like to feel this much stress because I am currently in the process of applying to medical school. I’ve been through this process, and I’ve been at the cross road many other students have faced with a bucket of stress. In other words, picture the last time you were assigned a ten page paper. As you firmly press your fingers against your temples, you stare blankly at the screen, which consists of two words, your first and last name. The blinking cursor seems to be blinding and your ideas somehow disappear. Suddenly you’re a robot, your fingers are typing but you are not fully awake. I know that I have felt like giving up at this point; saying, “screw it” and just pressing the submit button. The next episode of “This is Us” is on in five minutes and I just cannot miss it. At that point it’s easiest to just turn in the paper instead of working for those extra couple of hours and formulating coherent ideas.So what would you do in that situation? What most people don’t realize in the
middle of the night- when they feel completely frustrated, is that we all have more of a
choice over what we do than we think. Stress can feel consuming and can blind us from that fact. Stress is similar to myopia, blinding us from what’s right in front of us. We as students need to be prepared with methods other than just toughing it out when under that much stress. No one has to go through life feeling so hopeless.

The thing that helps me over come that sense of frustration has been my practice
of yoga. As I sit in the 80-degree room, surrounded by friends sharing in my practice, and I am told to focus on my breath, am reminded that I have control over my reality. When I am stressed with school, or going through anything emotionally taunting or anxiety provoking, I find myself short of breathe. I am consumed with what is happening in the moment, wrapped up in this feeling. I forget that I am a tiny little spec in the scope of this big world, that the world has SO much to offer, and the stress and anxiety felt at a certain moment will be gone another day. For every wind blowing in one direction, there is another wind counteracting that. So as I sit on my yoga mat I try to act as the counter wind. I breathe deeply from my chest out of my body and try and rid my mind of any external noise or extraneous thoughts. Back to this practice that values awareness of my physical body and mind. Back to a moment in time where I am able to see clearly, and am not blinded by stress and the external world to which I have no control. I struggle as I transition from downward facing dog to half moon where only one leg is supporting the weight of my body. I sit in this anxious feeling of not knowing whether I am able to hold up my own body. My muscles ache and for a split moment I doubt myself. I look around and see how perfectly balanced and still the woman next to me is, and how I am not that. That split second I make the decision to pick a spot on the ground and focus on it. I stare at that one spot and I breathe, letting go of my inner tension.

Through yoga, we can learn how to tolerate discomfort and recognize it’s temporary nature. We don’t always have control of the world swirling around us that seems to wrap us up in external expectations, but we do have control over our reaction to it. The woman next to me who was so perfectly balanced doesn’t have an affect on my
being. We often don’t realize how many of our worries originate from comparison to others even though accomplishments are always ranked against our peers and classmates. Yoga is a space free of this comparison that helps you not only tolerate discomfort, but value individual progress. As I move through these initially uncomfortable positions, I find the tension eases up and my muscles relax. My mind works in conjunction with my muscles and my breath guides my movement. At the end of these transitions I begin to feel myself becoming more graceful and guiding my own movements and breath, internalizing these instructions rather than hearing them from the instructor. I take this practice into my own hands, and do what’s right for me. This part of yoga practice requires so much concentration and physical awareness. In addition to this, we conclude our practice as a class as we all lay in our most comfortable position and meditate. Savasna. The yoga instructor tells us to free our mind of anything outside the room, anything outside of this present moment. For this moment in time is dedicated to our practice, and nothing else.

If you think yoga is cheesy or worthless, or simply not active enough-I totally understand. One thing I didn’t realize coming into college and was not taught throughout my primary education, was how to manage stress. I wasn’t told that once I got to college I not only had to manage the tremendous amount of schoolwork, but I had to organize my entire life. I was so overwhelmed having to time out my laundry, finish emails, and make sure to get my flu shot… All of this kind of hit me in the face like a cold bucket of water. I remember sitting in Bruff over a cold plate of mac and cheese with my two best friends crying and feeling like “I couldn’t manage”. Then one day in Sharp lobby I came across a sign that said free yoga in the student well. I was skeptical because I was very into cardio exercise and I thought yoga was not a real workout. My friends somehow convinced me to go, so the next thing I knew I was sitting with a mat waiting for the instructor to enter the room. I tried it, and felt pretty neutral about it. I could see more why people liked it, but it just wasn’t for me. To be honest I was pretty closed off about it, I would rather laugh while doing Zumba than sit quietly on a mat and meditate. I just wasn’t mature enough.

The next two years as I struggled through Organic Chemistry and Cellular Biology I missed meetings, forgot to send emails, and had pretty tough time organizing my life. From the outside I was maintaining pretty decent grades, so no one really knew the internal struggle I was going through. I had to go back to therapy to manage my stress because it was starting to take over. I ended up working with a success coach who helped me learn how to use my calendar to organize and schedule everything on my plate. In that way, I felt some sense of relief. The only problem was that sitting down to schedule everything in that little calendar was stressful itself. In that way the success coach was a temporary relief of stress. So some part of me yearned for something more to make me feel better.

 Junior year my friends went to this yoga studio downtown and said I just had to try it. Remembering how I felt about yoga previously I was kind of hesitant, but I honestly thought it would be a cute thing to try with my boyfriend. We showed up and were initially greeted by the woman behind the desk. The moisture in the air from the humidifier intensified the smell of incense and wooden floor. The door shut behind us,
and class began. The instructor wasn’t cheesy, but rather helpful and attentive to the class. During difficult positions she gently came over to me and guided me through them, helping me feel more competent. At the end we finished our practice with savasna. Instead of going through the whole “b.s.” mediation speech, she said make this meditation your own. Something that stood out to me was her reminding us that nothing at that moment was important besides breathing and relaxing.
Yoga is a life changing practice. It not only relieves stress, but places importance on the relationship of body and mind. We are not taught what to do at the cross road, we
are not told which road to take. We do have control over our life, but when we feel out of control it is hard to see. If we cannot see or feel our control, we are likely to give up on a dream or a vision like the one we made in elementary school as we wrote down what we wanted to be when we got older. Stress can be dangerous for it blinds us from reality. It is so important to use yoga as an outlet for stress. Yoga is a way of life- the concepts the practice teaches you can be applied in many stressful situations. No one wants to be the person in the middle of a test with sweat on the paper, and suddenly you can’t even remember your own name. It constantly brings us back to the reality that we all have a say over our decisions in life. We can stay in that one legged downward dog for more than three breaths because we want to eventually attain savasna. Our goal is in sight, and in our hands. We are the sculptors of our own life and yoga is our tool.