Post-stress lethargy

I would like to share a state of being that I sometimes experience and which I think may affect many people like me (but admittedly there are not many people like me). I find my life is often divided into two phases.

  • Phase 1: very busy, too much to do, very little time for recreation or projects.
  • Phase 2: all the time in the world for whatever I want.

Since I am a student these roughly coincide with term and holiday periods respectively. I want to share why phase 2 is sometimes agonising.

Phase 1 is ok. There is a lot of stress, but I never really have to worry about whether I am being productive or whether my life is going in the right direction. I’m just too busy. My horizon only stretches so far as my next hand-in or my next test. This is so until there is no next deadline – when, bam, phase 2 hits me like a wall of cold water. What should I do now?

It’s not that I can’t think of anything to do. I am ambitious enough that there about a trillion things that I would like to do – writing books and stories and reading all kinds of interesting things and posting on my blog and generally being productive.

But then I am faced with the immediate choice:

(a) do something productive (write a story, read Dickens, work on my novel, go learn some interesting maths), or

(b) relax (watch series or something, read something brainless like Harry Potter, or worst of all, watch anime).

The problem is (a) involves some effort and (b) involves pressing play. And by now, I’m drained from phase 1, so I choose (b). Once you’ve chosen (b) once, it is very easy to choose (b) again and so you can easily find yourself spending hours, days or weeks doing nothing. I have decided to call this state of being “post-stress lethargy.” It is annoying.

How I imagine I will spend my free time

How I actually spend my free time (except that I do not eat chips, and there is usually no couch)

The problem is that choosing (b) comes with the following cost: guilt. I always feel like I should be enriching my life in some meaningful way or doing something to achieve my goal of doing something worth remembering. Any prolonged period of not doing so tends to keep me up at night. The more I do nothing of value, the more I feel I should be doing something of value. But the tension this creates makes it harder to do anything of value and so I end up still choosing (b).

I’ve managed to overcome this to some extent over the years by relishing the times I do manage to conceive of doing something useful and acting on the impulse. Forcing things does not always work. But perhaps it is this repetitive Phase I, Phase 2 cycle that needs to be broken (this may or may not happen when I enter the working world). I wonder if other people experience this. If you do (or if you don’t) leave a comment.

(Disclaimer: the pictures are not mine. I found them here and here.)


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  1. #1 by Debra Colby-Conklin on 17/11/2012 - 2:15 pm

    You’re thinking too much about it all….chill, relax and stop worrying. 🙂

    • #2 by johandp on 19/11/2012 - 2:49 pm

      You’re probably right 🙂

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