5 Kind, Sensible Ways To Stop Psyching Yourself Out

Do you want to stop psyching yourself out? Stop procrastinating and freaking out over deadlines/projects/pitches/finals week? Click through for 5 tips that will help you right now!
How often do you psych yourself out? How often do you get panicky and procrastinate-y and do NOTHING instead of the huge to-do list you hate?

Friend, I have been there. There was a three-month period in 2007 in which I attended graduate school full time, held two part time jobs, attempted to go vegan and lived with three other people in a two bedroom cottage.

What? Yes. How ridiculous am I?

And when it came time to write my papers, my coping technique involved staring the computer into submission, crying and then eating several candy bars. However! That awful three-month foray into insanity taught me a bit about how to chill the eff out in the face of pressure and not completely psych myself out.

5 ways to stop psyching yourself out

1. Try your hardest. No, really. Your actual hardest

Don't confuse 'not being totally lazy' with 'trying hard.' Click To TweetIf I look back on high school, I realize that what I thought was “trying hard” was actually about 50% of what I was capable of. College required about 70% of my best effort and graduate school called for about 90% (with the occasional bit of 95% in that damn grammar class!)
And I think we all know what trying our hardest feels like, in anything that we’re attempting:

  • doing all of the readings (before class!), attending the study session and meeting with your prof if you have questions
  • networking with people in the field you want to get into, learning the applicable software, attending workshops and volunteering for big, hard projects that nobody wants to do
  • asking your friends if they know anybody they can set you up with, giving internet dating a try, talking to cute strangers and going out with the perfectly nice guy you’re not sure about

I find that when I know that I’ve tried my hardest, that I’ve done absolutely everything within my power to be successful at a given project, whether or not I succeed becomes almost secondary. You can’t do anything else, you’ve given it all you’ve got.

There’s nothing to get psyched out about.Also – when you’ve realllly tried your hardest? You’re pretty likely to succeed, right?

2. Consult your cohorts

If you’re losing your mind over your millions of term papers, your fruitless job hunt, your never-ending singledom or your frequently rejected manuscript, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one going through this. But, shockingly enough, you’re not. Other people in the world are stressed out, unemployed, unhappily single or unpublished. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend hunkering down for a three hour bitch-fest with your equally frustrated peers, it feels good to know you’re not alone.

Allow yourself a bit of time to winge about this predicament and then see if these friends are trying anything you haven’t thought of. Maybe they’re friends with a physics whiz or a publishing agent or a single cutie. Maybe they’ve got some academic references you can use. Combine and use your powers for good!

3. Take a (tiny, little) breather

If you’ve been going all out, trying your absolute hardest for the last two weeks, you’re probably in need of a breather. Energy and creativity need to be replenished, and really? The library has to close at some point. So take some time (two hours, a day, a week) and completely distance yourself from the project.

Shower, change clothes, grab lunch somewhere new with someone who’s not studying the same thing as you. Take a weekend away and read things that have absolutely nothing to do with what you’re working on. Watch a fun, mindless movie. Go dancing and drink a little bit too much. Get a massage. Go rollerskating.

4. Realize that the world will not end

During graduate school, I was whining to my friend, lamenting the possibility of getting a C (shock and horror!) on a paper. She leveled her eyes at me and said “And you know what will happen if you get a C? The world will keep doing this (insert rotating hand motion here)”

And girlfriend was right. I know that these papers, this job search, this grad school application seem like the end-all-be-all right now. But they’re not. Really. They’re not. I didn’t get my driver’s license till I was nearly 17. I went through a terrible break up at age 29. I didn’t get into the first graduate school I applied to. And you know what? Not dead.

5. Remember your other strengths

If you try your hardest & things don't work out, remember: you're not defined by this 1 thing. Click To Tweet You are not just a student or a writer or an ex-girlfriend. You are a great friend, a sibling, a maker of great sandwiches and the owner of some gorgeous legs.

And the grade on your term papers isn’t going to change those things.

How do you deal with deadlines and pressure? Tell us your best tips in the comments so we can benefit from your knowledge!

P.S. How to get what you want + 17 ways to feel calmer and happier when you only have 10 minutes

photo by John Mark Arnold // cc

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  1. freewheelinlisa.wordpress.com

    Nice advice. I'm currently on the job hunt and it can definitely get depressing to continually be pushing out resumes that I know are good yet the jobs are so scarce and the unemployment is so high that its just hard for everyone and competition is higher than ever. I can't wait to just go home for Christmas and stop thinking about it for a little while.

  2. love, S

    Great advice! Copious amounts of english breakfast tea, Time Out chocolates, listening to mellow music, vent to BFFs and pray really, really hard!

  3. Ashley

    this helps me a lot right now. i have to make a descion in the next week or so whether or not i want to take a semester off before transferring schools and getting my bachelors degree. im young, 20, and married.i just want to take some time to pursue other things, like working with handicapped individuals in an art therapy kind of way, and trying out a new part time job… i also want to get done with school as quickly as possible. thats the dilema… then of course i will have to pursaude my hubbie to think its a good idea also(he is leaning towards school)… * sigh*

  4. Laura

    such great advice, I'm in the middle of my finals in my last year of University and while I'm constantly moaning that I'm trying my hardest, I'm really not.

    Certainly a great wake up call and many of my friends have told me the very same thing about chilling out and realising one grade won't change the course of your life unless you let it.

    LOVE reading such inspiring, insightful posts, kisses!

  5. Erin

    My favorite stress management technique has been Bottle It Up And Give Yourself A Pulled Neck Muscle You're So Tense.

    However, I am now glad to have some new techniques, a la Sarah Von.

  6. Vixel

    Great post, my coping techniques tend to include large amounts of caffiene, repetative electronic music, and total surrender to the times my body *wants* to work, i.e. writing from 3pm until 4am if that means I'm more productive than at more sociable hours!

  7. katja_nikula

    thank you so much for writing this article! and to the person who sent in the question. couldn't have come at a better time. it has reminded me of a lot of important things and given me new insight! 🙂

    my coping technique has also consisted of staring the computer into submission and crying, but lately i've tried out a "think of nothing else, this is all there is right now" technique, which sounds a little drastic, but actually works wonders. its a lot easier to do something when you're 100% concentrated on that and not something else.

  8. Anna

    so reading your blog instead of studying for the test i have in an hour is legit?? (wink wink, nudge nudge…) because i think so!


  9. Tiffany

    So wise, so wise!

  10. Renai

    It is almost impossible for me to just buckle down and do one thing. I have to do several things at a time, or else I lose my drive. So I allow myself to check email, or read a few blogs while working on actual projects.

    When I was running my own business I'd do something totally work focused for a few solid hours- and then bake something! Cooking calms me down!

  11. mennogirl

    What you just wrote about trying your hardest was really perfect. I think I often confuse working hard with working my hardest and there is indeed such a difference. It was also refreshing to hear you include dealing with unwanted singleness as another thing one needs to work hard at. Excellent (if sometimes difficult to follow through with :)) advice, thanks!
    Oh and thanks for saying hello over on my blog, I think I owe Sal a thanks for helping me find your blog 🙂

  12. Catherine

    Once in college, I complained to a fellow student (a very bright fellow and successful academic) about the amount of work I had to do and he very calmly said, "Just do your work and it will all be done." It's advice I still live by. It means just taking one element at a time. Don't look at 85 pages, look at 3 paragraphs, one chapter, etc. and just keep going.

    Also, as I've aged, I've learned to use my resources. For the reader askign the question, that might mean going to her professors for a bit of advice about how to tackle each project in the most effective way. For others of us, it means talking to our boss, our mentors, our business contacts. The saying goes, "No [wo]man is an island." Don't try to be a hero by going it alone. Ask for help.

    And, finally, as Ms. Von says, perfection is not a requirement (and I'm sorry to say that sometimes, in life, failure is a requirement…but take heart! It's not so bad!) Focus on the critical items and goals and let the rest go.

    Good luck!

  13. Emily

    This is so insightful. I laughed when I read the first tip; I feel like most people do confuse trying hard with not being totally lazy.
    For me, to do lists always help. I like to start early and break huge projects down into smaller pieces so they feel less intimidating. I study with friends before big exams so we can help each other and commiserate at the same time, and, this is the key right here, I always ask for help when I need it.

    On another note, I gave you an award on my blog. It involves making a list and I'm interested in what you have to say!

  14. Michelle

    Umm…that picture cracks me up. Like, I laughed out loud at work. REALLY LOUD.

  15. Dereck

    I DO have great legs!

  16. runningfiance

    Thank you! This is a great post. I often confuse not being lazy with working hard. Let's be honest, few things require you to really work hard. You can definitely get by on less. But hard work also pays off!

    I have been working hard (legitimately) on my job search for months now. Thank you for reminding me that, job or no, the world will keep turning 🙂

    haha and I do have great legs!

  17. Kate

    Thank you thank you thank you for reminding me what it means to actually work hard at something. I appreciate your blog so much.

  18. Isisingonthecake

    you're the best, Sarah Von. thank you so much!

  19. MP

    I like to break it down into little time segments. Like, this time next week…it will be done. Then this time tomorrow…it will be done. And then when I'm really stressed or avoiding something I just say in __ hours this will all be over. For good or bad, I can't change it but it will be done. It works for deadlines and things that I don't want to do. Like going to my in-laws extended family for Christmas. 🙂

  20. Mary

    Lovely post! When I'm feeling the pressure, I read posts like this one to get a grip. I also take a walk, just to get out of the office long enough to think. It's surprising, but just a quick walk and a few minutes in the sun can make a huge difference.

  21. Juliet

    School can be a bitch, to stay it straight. But it gives so much. I think I work so much better under pressure.

    juliet xxx

  22. Georgiebird

    Haha! Great! The night before something big is due I usually allow myself 10 minutes to wallow in self-annoyance that I spent so long researching and procrastinating actually writing the damned paper. There might be a couple of candy bars involved here also. Then I crank it up to 90-95% and surprisingly it usually works. I wonder what would happen if I worked at a nice 80% level the whole term?

  23. stephanie

    nicely put and way to tweak things into perspective. i'll have to reread this when i get all stressed out again.

  24. Miss Peregrin

    Seriously, I love you. That's about all I can say to this blog. Oh, and I'm totally guilty of confusing the trying my hardest/trying not quite my hardest thing.

  25. Sock Monkey Headquarters

    Sarah Von, I heart you. In my time of need, your words of wisdom are the breather I need. I'm not sure if I ever thanked you for the lovely postcard you sent me in NZ. I'm in Malaysia now and would love the chance to return the favour. Send me your address ok?! Big big hugs!

  26. molly

    you give the best advice sarah 🙂

  27. Dee

    Some people call it "procrastinating", but I just call it "freeing up headspace" when I tidy up my room. During finals and term paper season, it becomes a mess. I through clothes anywhere, overflowing trashcan, papers scattered on the floor and desk. If I take just 1 (or maybe 2 hours) to listen to some music while I do laundry, maybe vaccumm, fold clothes and make my bed, I will feel refreshed and like I will have one less thing on my mind.

    I'm so worried that some of my friends are going down the wrong path, in terms of knowing why exactly they are doing what they are doing in school. They consume themselves so much into the work, that I sometimes feel like they are losing themselves, fading away. It's fine to put your head down and concentrate, but it's also ok to just take a little breather and remind yourself why you're doing what you do.

  28. Emily

    Thank you so so so so so much for this right now. I am in the process of trying to write my Master's thesis and in all honesty haven't been trying that hard at all. I think maybe when I get home from work today I will stop avoiding the hard work of academic thinking and just sit down and try my hardest to get something done.
    Somehow your posts always seem to be exactly what I need!

  29. Jess

    Thanks for the shout out Miss Sar. Oh, one of my defining moments in life. The day I told you off. 🙂

    Love ya.

  30. Emily Kennedy

    Really wonderful advice about trying your hardest. You were right on about doing all the readings before class, doing the networking, doing the research, giving it that extra all and filling your every waking moment with it. Good things come to those who WORK. It's difficult, but doable.

    Also, paying attention to your strengths is another great recommendation. When the poor soul with the 85 pages due is done, she might want to buy StrengthsFinder 2.0. It's quite excellent at helping you identify what you're good at, and maximize your pre-existing potential.

  31. fineliners

    I just love you.

    Write a book. Or be my best friend, please.

  32. Anonymous

    love your writing style!

  33. My Life Out Loud

    Absolutely LOVE your blog. You offer sound and meaningful advice and it is nice to see that not everyone in this blogging world has a one track mind…I like your variety.

  34. Shireen

    LOVE THIS! Completely resonates with me, and I will be sending to many of my friends who can benefit from reading this!! 🙂

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