If It’s Almost Over, Why Do I Feel So Bad?

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The school year is over, or almost over. This is a season of high stress. You are stressed, and the people you are surrounded by are stressed. That is not fun.

Let’s take a look at why this is such a stressful time of year.

Cramming is Crummy

Very high functioning people, such as grad students and professors, demand a lot of themselves. Therefore they find it very difficult to admit that they have concluded their work. There is always a little more that really should be squeezed in.

If you are a professor, did you try to squeeze more into those last few classes? If you did, were those your better lectures? How did your students respond – with delight or loud groans? The latter is a rhetorical question. Of course, no one wants to be burdened with more heavy-duty material flung at them at the end of a semester.

For those finishing up chapters, do you have trouble letting go? Discussions in my groups have centered around this subject – admitting that this is all you are going to hand in, despite the fact that you are hyperaware of how deficient your chapter is, constitutes torture. After all, you could have put in so much more detail about Gesture and Soliloquy’s theory of rhetorical somnambulism. The words “good enough” have never been in your vocabulary.

Transitions are Taxing

Change of any type, whether good or bad, is hard. Unfortunately, few people are aware of this fact. Usually we focus on our relief that we have finished up a particular class, chapter, or school year.

The reason that change is hard is that as humans, we are capable of ambivalence – the ability to feel more than one feeling at once. Thus, when we feel relieved and sad at the same time, it turns into another, more toxic feeling. For example, relief that you have finished a chapter, combined with regret over the sections you omitted, can become a free-floating feeling of guilt or even self-hatred.

You are not only transitioning out of a school year, chapter, publication, or class. You are transitioning into something – a vacation, summer sessions, or a new chapter. Even delightful events can cause stress. If you ever saw my husband and me on the first day of a vacation, you would be convinced of that.

So even summer can “loom,” being fraught with unplanned vacations, children being home, or excessive free time that you are planning to use to write huge, award-winning dissertations or manuscripts.

Help is Here

Here are some ideas for coping with stressful transition times.

  • Be aware of conflicting feelings. This simple step is amazingly helpful in conquering feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed out.

  • Be aware that those around you are going through the same thing. So cut them some slack or keep your distance.

  • Take note of how you handled the end of the semester. Would you do anything differently (e.g. plan your last classes better, give different tests, etc.?) If so make a note and put that note in a time capsule (or a PDA) so that you will find it when planning your next semester’s classes.

  • Let go of perfectionism. This should be a mantra. Let your class be “good enough.” Let your chapter be (shudder) adequate. You can edit later, or do a better job next time.

  • Grad students who teach – be aware that you are caught between stressed professors (and administrators, for that matter) and stressed undergrads.

  • Make sure you schedule mini-breaks to take care of yourself, and to spend time with family and friends.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to end right now, even though this article is only “good enough.” I feel I must be a good role model.

© Gina Hiatt, PhD.
Gina is a dissertation and tenure coach. She helps academics, from grad students wondering about their dissertation topic to faculty members who want to maintain a high level of research and writing, to reach their goals more quickly and less painfully. Get Gina’s free assessments & ezine at www.academicladder.com

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