Stress, Sleep, and Setting Boundaries


Katherine Chiu, Region III SAC Representative

August 22, 2018

Today, I want to talk about stress, sleep, and setting boundaries!

I’m coming at this topic from personal experience in tackling years and years of sleep deprivation, and finally shifting my sleep schedule in the name of quality sleep. Last year, I was going to bed as late as 4 AM regularly and getting roughly 3 hours of sleep. Now, I am going to bed as late as 12:30 AM regularly and getting roughly 6.5 hours of sleep! I am so proud of my personal accomplishment that I want to share some of the realizations that helped me to achieve my sleep goals. By the end of this blog post, I hope you will feel like quality sleep is not only a possibility, but also a priority.

All people experience some emblem of stress – whether it’s related to academics, work, finances, events, relationships, or personal challenges. For college students? It can be any number of these, or all of them at once! Not to mention the looming future that continually calls upon us to make difficult decisions and choices. You put all of that together and it’s a recipe for disaster. I’ve come to realize that going to bed stressed creates a negative mental space for my sleep, which ultimately contributes to worsened sleep quality. I had more difficulty falling asleep, and found myself waking up with increasingly less energy. In order to combat the overwhelming stress and produce a serene mental space before bed, I started:

  1. Drinking hot / warm tea
    • Roughly 1 hour before bed
    • The less sugar and caffeine the better!
  2. Stretching, as needed
    • Particularly in areas that are disproportionately affected by sitting for long period of time (i.e. back and legs)
    • Self-guided (no need for a video)
  3. Listening to soothing music
    • Nothing particularly up-beat or aggressive
    • Typically, music that brings me joy
    • Adjusted to a comfortable volume
  4. Using deep breathing techniques
    • Help relax muscles and mind
    • Gave me a chance to process my day
    • Can be paired with stretching exercises or aromatherapy
  5. Listing 3 different things / people that I am grateful for
    • Roughly 5 to 10 minutes before falling asleep
    • Had to be 3 different things every single day (this opened my eyes to what I personally take for granted)

In today’s academic environment, there is always something to do, always something to accomplish, always something you “should” be doing. Unfortunately, expectations for students in college are at an all-time high. Students are not only committing time to their full-time job as students, but they are also committing time to jobs that will earn them money alongside other academic, volunteer, or recreational interests. In order to combat the endless tasks and end my work day, I started:

  1. Deconstructing negative thoughts
    • Examples of negative thoughts that perpetuate a feeling of needing to do or accomplish more and more every day
      • “I need to do more”
      • “I didn’t do enough today”
      • “I’ve been so unproductive”
      • “I need to keep working until there’s no more work to do”
      • “I need to be more involved in ___________ in order to ___________”
    • Deconstructing is important because it helps us understand the root, meaning, and purpose of our negative thoughts
  2. Removing ONE thing from my schedule
    • Think to yourself, “does this bring ME personal satisfaction, personal growth, healthy relationships, happiness, opportunity, and well-being?”
    • Think to yourself, “am I here because I want to be?”
    • Think to yourself, “who am I doing this for?”
    • Weigh pros and cons
    • Remember that there will be someone to step in, if you find that you need to step out
  3. Recognizing that I shouldn’t “bite off more than I can chew”
    • The average college student has more responsibilities and expectations than they can typically handle
    • Remember: the only person responsible for added stressors is you!
  4. Setting a routine
    • Morning, night, whatever helps!
    • This can be especially helpful for winding down before bed
  5. Setting boundaries
    • Particularly with people / things that you have no obligation to
    • Particularly with people / things that are toxic to your health and wellbeing
    • Give yourself space to breath and relax
  6. Allotting time for self-care
    • Limit times during which you respond to emails and other communication, especially regarding work
    • Find something that brings you joy and make time for it (not just once every year!)

Your health is your responsibility. Only YOU have the power to make significant and sustainable changes in regard to your dimensions of wellness. So, why is it that we allow other people and things to negatively influence it? Yes, our health is a product of our decisions, but our decisions can often be the product of our environment. Identifying a toxic environment and adjusting the way you handle, receive, or cope with it can potentially prevent toxic decision-making (i.e. stress eating, staying up until 4 AM, or retreating to alcohol or other substances).

One of the hardest parts in doing this is communicating to others what YOU need. Before I told people what I need, I was sacrificing my health and well-being on a daily basis. The consequences for me were a lack of sleep, irritable mood, lack of patience & motivation, gaining roughly 40 pounds, and decreased academic performance & self-confidence. Now, I promise this isn’t intended to scare you! The BENEFITS of telling people what I needed were a full night’s rest, consistently pleasant mood, increased patience & motivation, losing roughly 20 pounds, and increased self-confidence. (Hopefully the academic performance will increase too when the school year starts!

When you tell people what you need to thrive and succeed, they will listen and respect you. Most people are very receptive to prioritization of personal health! Next time, try saying: “I need to allot 2 hours every day to go to the gym, so I won’t be able to tend to anything during that time” or “I need to go to bed at a reasonable hour, so I won’t be able to stay for the remainder of the meeting if it goes past 9 PM.” In order to combat the overflow of obligations and take responsibility for my health, I started:

  1. Sharing my calendar
    • Particularly with my campus job supervisor, and other individuals that may try to reach me consistently
    • Make sure to adjust privacy setting so that people don’t know EVERYTHING about your life, just allow them to see when you’re unavailable, if possible
  2. Prioritizing ME
    • Remember it’s okay to say “no,” “I’ll get to it later,” “I’ll get to it after ____,” or “I need (*insert amount of time*) to get _____ back to you”
    • Just because someone is making demands, it doesn’t mean you are obligated to follow them
  3. Reclaiming responsibility
    • No one can improve your health but you
    • Positive health decisions are personal investments that develop into positive health outcomes
  4. Re-gearing thought
    • Health and wellness goals should pertain to me and me only
    • I used to think: “I need to (*insert health activity*) because (*insert person / thing*) needs / wants me to” and “I need to (*insert health activity*) because I’m inferior compared to (*insert person*)”
    • I now think: “I need to (*insert health activity*) because I need / want me to” and “I need to (*insert health activity*) because I want to achieve (*insert goal*) for my own health and wellbeing”

This year, I’m striving to put my health and wellbeing first! I’m going to get some good sleep, and not think twice about it. I hope you will all join me in decluttering your schedule and mind for the benefit of you and only you.

Thanks for reading! 

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