I've Been Reflecting.

I've Been Reflecting.

The truth is, I was going through a very rough time in my life recently. A lot of the stressors I'd managed to cope with in the past were starting to get the better of me.

It caused me to have to re-evaluate a lot about the way I live - the way I think about my life, and the actions I take in response to events that happen to me. Whether that was at university, at home, or just by myself. It’s the kind of hard emotional processing you only really get when you spend time by yourself. And it’s difficult. After talking to some mental health professionals, I realised I had a lot of feelings and emotions to work through.

I'm also coming to a time at university that I feel will lead to a lot more challenges: the final semester of my final year. With my dissertation deadline in just a few weeks, and an international competition that I'm leading a project for in a few months - I feel this post is necessary before I move onto anything else.

brown wooden table clock at 10 10

At this point, I'm pretty used to baring my feelings out online for the world to see (as strange as that sounds). While this post is a way for me to process what I'm going through, I acknowledge that a lot of us can find it hard to deal with the problems in our own lives. Sometimes it takes seeing someone else doing it to get that helping hand. So if this is what you need - I hope it can provide some support to you.

The Three Causes

Thankfully, nowadays I'm at a point where I'm feeling closer to normal, and capable of dealing with the challenges that are in front of me. But when I think about what caused the suffering I was going through, I attributed it to 3 major aspects:

  • The relationship I had with technology.
  • The relationship I had with myself.
  • The relationship I had with my work.

This post talks about each of them, and how reflecting on them has brought me to a better understanding of how I can improve - getting back to achieving the goals that I wanted for myself.

My relationship with technology.

gray and black laptop computer on surface

I realised a lot of my involvement with technology, and the reason I would consume it, came down to three things. The only thoughts that would actually prompt me to open up an app or a website, would be:

  • 1: Focusing on hyper-productivity and how I can do 'X thing' better

I.e. - watching self improvement videos or streams, to figure out how to optimise some aspect of my life that I felt wasn't good enough.

  • 2: Wanting a distraction or a way to escape, to avoid responsibilities

That would often mean opening up Instagram, Tiktok or LinkedIn, seeing what other people are doing, or just playing games to avoid my feelings.

  • 3: Wanting to create content online to build my digital profile.

Finding ideas for my next upload, or inspiration from other creators so that I can make something later on.

All of these are alright when used in regular doses, but when combined, and done to an extreme, they were a major aspect of what was causing me so much stress.

black and white textile on brown textile

My hourly phone usage was appalling, I'd barely be able to sleep with the amount of blue light I was exposing myself to - and worst of all - I stopped giving myself space to think in between everything.

It's something I've come to understand about the way many of us live our lives nowadays.

Every moment was full with the sound of an audiobook, or a podcast, a YouTube video while I ate, background noise while I worked. Something to fill the gap in the silence that I felt was so necessary to fill - because without it, I would either be failing to maximise my time, or unable to distract myself from reality.

Funnily enough, it took me finding healthy spaces online and learning from professionals, to understand that to regain control of the technology I was using, I needed to learn to be okay with boredom.

No audiobooks, no videos. Slowly starting to subtract things from my routine, that normally would have been there.

It's something I've only just started doing recently, but am already realising is helping a lot.

person in gray hoodie sitting on picnic table staring at the fog during daytime

With that mental space, I can emotionally process the events in my life as well. It strengthens my mind and allows me to tolerate boredom even more. And by doing so, makes the 'boring' stuff (the studying and the work) even easier.

It means that I no longer feel a compulsion to open up social media when I have a spare minute - I stop losing awareness, especially of the way I'm feeling - and generally feel better.

My relationship with myself.

brown wooden dresser with mirror inside white room

The way I was brought up to think about success has had a massive impact on my personality today. I think to some extent, everyone sees it this way: to succeed is inherently good - it's just the flavour of success you choose, that has you addicted to it later on.

For many of us, it can be academic. Wanting that A grade, getting that degree.

Sometimes it starts to spread into other things. Even when I love playing videogames, I'm not happy unless I'm winning.

white ceramic figurine on black table

In the past, I ran myself into the ground chasing that success - wanting to be better, wanting to get better at getting better. Thinking about it actually took me back to my teenage years - a time when I was so stressed to do well in my A Levels, because I felt like I had everyone’s expectations riding on me. My family’s, my teachers and friends, and my own. I felt like everyone was counting on me, and if I ever dropped the ball, that things would be ruined - and yet the pressure kept building and building and eventually I hit a breaking point.

The way I am now - I'm starting to remember that what got me out of that rut was understanding that the feeling of stress over wanting to do well, is independent of whether I do well or not. The stress doesn't make me perform any better after a certain point. In fact, it's very much a hindrance.

In a time when so many students start getting burnt out of their degrees, finishing off their final dissertations - that feeling of academic burnout and responsibility can be crippling. But the first step I'm taking to process it is to understand that fundamentally, it has no positive effect on my actions.

opened book

The only thing I can do is try. And if I've done that today, and tomorrow, and the day after, it's enough.

Nowadays, I try to sit for a little longer than I would have, acknowledging that feeling each and every day - crediting myself for the work that I do, instead of skimming over every accomplishment and moving onto the next task.

It doesn't take any affirmations, or mantras, or any actual work.

All it takes is understanding that I don't need to be perfect. I just need to be good enough.

My relationship with my work.

person sitting front of laptop

Having spent so long feeling as though I was falling behind with my work, it was continually more paralysing trying to get back into a rhythm. I felt like to get back to 'normal' I would need to put in twice, or three times, or five times as much effort, and that would lead to a feeling of hopelessness that stopped me from taking any action at all.

Linking in with the way I viewed myself - success in my work was a core aspect of my identity.

I realised my ego is very much attached to my success, even though I try not to make it so. Even though I’m constantly aware of wanting to be as humble as possible, my ego tells me that if I can’t manage to be successful in something, I have lost a sense of value for my own personal identity. My identity, my label, becomes tied to these things. And especially when I’m always chasing labels: aspiring astronaut, project lead, aerospace engineer, blogger, content creator - if I don’t live up to those things, I freeze - unable to continue.

closeup photo of snow near trees at daytime

But the reality is, if I do these things because of some external reason, I don't think I'll ever be happy. Grounding myself in the understanding that I do them because they have meaning to me, most of all, is what's liberating.

That I do them because I want to do them. Not because other people want me to.

Ultimately, I've come to understand that I need to recentre my attention away from the things around me - the technology, the success and expectations of other people - focus again on what I want, without any shame or judgement.

And then, just work at it.

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