My experience with stress and how I am overcoming it.

I must admit that when I made the decision to pursue an honour’s degree in journalism at Wits in 2020, I never fully understood just how challenging and demanding the course would be.

Long days spent on campus constantly searching for story ideas, as well as never-ending pressure to meet deadlines – a rewarding task but definitely difficult, to say the least.

Truthfully, I have never been one who stresses much, since my life has been relatively peaceful so far. The world has been good to me – and I am truly grateful. After spending just six short weeks in the Wits Vuvuzela newsroom, however, I have come to realise that stress is a very real thing and can have a major effect on everything one does.

Lately I have been finding myself wide awake at 4am, worrying about whether or not I will be able to manage the course I dedicated myself to. What is more, my appetite has dwindled significantly: as a huge “foodie” this is highly unlike me. I have also become less social and more reserved in public. All the things I used to enjoy doing, such as writing songs and singing, no longer seem to excite me all that much.

This got me thinking… Surely I cannot be the only Witsie out there living with these thoughts and feelings? And so, while trying to discuss my own experiences with stress, I would like to share a few practices I have implemented to rise above life’s challenges. Hopefully people reading this may realise they are not alone and there is hope for a happier, peaceful future.

Let’s first get back to basics. Sleep is very important. I have found that waking and going to bed at the same time every night has greatly improved my mood and energy levels, while adding structure to my life. An app called SleepyTime calculates the ideal time when one should hit the sheets.

When I wake up, I run through a few practices in mindfulness. I like to call this my “HeartWork” – ways of thinking that feed my heart and soul for the day. These practices were inspired by Rhonda Byrne in her book, The Secret, and they include counting my blessings, reading an inspirational daily quote and reminding myself of my strengths and values.

Once I am up, and if I find the willpower to do so, I hit the gym for an hour and always end up thanking myself for doing so. A good sweat puts me in a productive mood for the rest of the day – but if fitness is not your cup of tea, start small and go for a jog or try some lighter exercise. It all counts!

Speaking of light exercise, going for walks around the neighbourhood is one of my favourite ways to de-stress and gain mental clarity. It allows me to be fully present in the moment and to realise just how beautiful the world really is, even when things feel grey.

I am no monk or spiritual teacher, but I find that meditation is a simple, incredible way to help me clear my mind and find inner peace. I would highly recommend trying out apps such as Headspace or Calm, which provide audio files of voices that speak to you throughout the meditation. This helps you keep focus instead of possibly drifting off to sleep.

If I have tried all the above but my day still feels like a hot mess, I find happiness and comfort spending time with the people I love most: my family. I may be 24 years old, but still nothing beats a hug from my mom. If you are going through a tough time, I would seriously encourage you to seek support from the people who matter most to you.

If all else fails, remember the words of Roman emperor and pioneer of stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius: “Memento Mori – Remember that someday you will die.” As gloomy as this might sound, it always reminds me that life is too short to be wasted on worrying about things that do not matter, or are beyond my control.

For me, the secret to happiness, as spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle would say, is to “realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have”. So do the best you can, live every day as though it could be your last and take every opportunity to have a good laugh; you deserve it.

Above all else, do not worry – you’ve got this.

FEATURED IMAGE: “Reading self-help books gave me invaluable insight on how to stress less, be happier and live a more peaceful life”
Photo: Niall Higgins