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How to make the pain train less painful

December 10, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the author.
Kyra Tan

Hello, all. I wanted to provide some specific guidance on ways to stay calm during this final stretch of the first semester. After this, winter break is upon us! Blessed sleep! Blessed Netflix! Until then …

For the current situation, I drew the Major Arcana card of Judgement. This means that we’re all on the cusp of rebirth. This corresponds to many of the “end of’s” that we’re currently facing: end of classes, end of the semester and the end of 2021 (wowza). This card encourages us to look back upon our deeds and honestly evaluate ourselves. Reflect on this year—what’s gone well, what’s gone to hell and all the things in the middle. Reflect on how you’ve grown this past semester and what challenges you faced along the way. From this period of introspection, new directions and possibilities open up before us. Think to yourself: how do I want to be in this home stretch period? How do I want to feel? What do I imagine myself doing? This card is all about realizations following self-examination and introspection.

For the current challenge, I drew the Major Arcana card of The Emperor. This card embodies authority, structure and stability. Here, the mind rules over the heart. This is exactly the problem, folks. When we are challenged intellectually, like with finals, we often rise to meet that challenge on intellectual terms and completely neglect critical emotional responses. We often forgo sensitivity, flexibility, forgiveness and understanding during this time in favor of order, schedules and “staying on track.” We neglect our hearts, which are equally tested by this stressful period of time. Remember to check in often with how you’re feeling—are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you sad, frustrated or stressed? Try to start and maintain a practice of taking emotional and bodily stock so that you can stay present and grounded—and so that you can be kind to yourself. If you’re hungry, please eat. If you’re tired, please take a nap or go to bed early. If you’re feeling upset, talk with someone! A friend, a parent or a professor. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, please advocate for yourself. Hard deadlines are not more important than your well-being. Period. Of course, as a student myself, I know that missing deadlines can often negatively affect your well-being. In these cases, if the suffering that comes from trying to make these deadlines outweighs the potential suffering that’d result from missing it, miss the deadline. Trust that there is a solution that is not so painful. Please, be forgiving of yourself if this happens, even though there is nothing to forgive. You did nothing wrong.

For general advice, I drew the Nine of Swords. This card represents anxiety when you are trapped by your own negative thoughts. That idea of being trapped is exactly it—you’re trapped, but the situation might not necessarily warrant that worry. This card speaks to the thinking and worrying that leaves you feeling paralyzed and helpless. The situation might be high-stakes, but it doesn’t automatically need to be stressful. This sounds a lot like “oh, you’re depressed? Just be happy!” but hear me out. First, the fact that you’re stressed is telling you important information—either the work ahead of you is too challenging, you’re being too hard on yourself or you care very much about how you perform in finals. However, after you recognize the stress response, you can take action to reduce it. You don’t need the stress anymore after that. It’s hurting you at that point. Making time for meditation, fun and laughter can help. Taking a more objective look at what the situation is can also help to ground and distance yourself from the worries, which often whip circumstances out of proportion. All this is not to say that your stress isn’t valid or that it doesn’t mean anything. Your stress is valid—it’s important. However, stress gets in the way more than it ever helps. Nor does stress change the situation for the better. It just makes living in the present more upsetting. Of course, all of this is easier said than done. But please remember that, no matter how stressed you are, you always have the power to make some positive changes in your life. Naturally, the burden to reduce student stress should not fall solely on students, but that’s a conversation for another time

Mama Sullivan once shared a story that went something like this (I don’t remember the details, so I’m liberally embellishing. This is a liberal arts school, after all): she was a college student, just like us, attending school in the city. She often commuted from place to place via the train. One day, on the way to an important event, she realized that the train was going to be late. ‘Oh, shit!,’ she thought. Her mind began to race about what would happen if she missed part of this event. She looked anxiously outside at other passengers entering and exiting the train while silently screaming for them to haul ass faster. Every subsequent stop the train made was like a punch to the face, as she helplessly watched the painfully slow stops and starts of the train cars. After this nail-biting went on for quite some time, she had another realization: wait, worrying about this train will not make it go any faster, it’ll only make me miserable.

Hopefully, we can all ride the train more peacefully, whether it arrives late or not.

My love is with you all!

Nora

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