Need to de-stress? Get off campus

2015-09-19 13.29.23
The canopy of a nearby orchard, where I went picking pears earlier this year.

There’s no denying it: It’s hard to escape the “Orange Bubble.” With so much to do on campus, it’s hard to think of reasons to leave our little insulated community. But the deeper I venture into my thesis (due May 2; the coveted Post Thesis Life doesn’t exist for ELE majors), the more I realize how easy it is to get lost in long days of endless work —and how important it is to leave the Orange Bubble once in a while.

Last weekend, the stress got particularly bad. There was exactly one month until my thesis deadline, which sounds nice in theory, but did nothing to stop the utterly terrifying feeling of hopelessness from descending upon me. Sure, one month meant much more time to work on my experiments and write carefully. But there was so much still to do—tests to run, simulations to work through, and above all, the actual writing, which I hadn’t even begun. And all this on top of classwork! I felt overwhelmed, and I just couldn’t bring myself to work anymore. While friends in other departments were already turning in their theses and reveling in their newfound freedom, I knew I’d have another month of rapid-fire deadlines and inescapable stress.

We were surprised when we ran into the “Welcome to Princeton” sign on the western border of town, some 3 miles away from campus.

The reprieve came in the afternoon, when I went out on a run with my friend. We crossed all over campus, down by the lakeside, traversing endless houses and roads, long past where the trash bins stopped saying “Princeton” and started reading “Lawrenceville”. When we passed the “Welcome to Princeton” sign again, it felt like we had gone everywhere, and Princeton felt so small by comparison.

For that hour or two, I didn’t forget about my thesis. But I did stop thinking obsessively about it. And my mind apparently needed that break, because when I came back after my run, I didn’t panic when I sat down to work. Nothing helps research more than a clear mind.

After that experience, I started to think that I don’t always know what’s best for myself. I never feel like taking a break when I’m working, because I’m convinced that just another hour can make a difference. But I realized I need those breaks, however annoying they might seem when I’m working. Things like trips to the grocery store for food, weekly runs, and interacting with the greater community can put my daily stresses into greater perspective.

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, try getting off campus for a little bit. Even just seeing that Princeton sign might make a world of difference.

2014-05-06 17.29.55
We ran into this sign in the Institute Woods — it certainly put things in perspective!

–Stacey Huang, Engineering Correspondent