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Big Smile

Mental Health


Notes from Stutz and how to work in high-stress environments.

There’s a really interesting documentary I can highly recommend watching. It’s called ‘Stutz’ and is about Jonah Hill’s therapist. It delves in to both Stutz’s and Jonah’s own healing processes as well as commonly used therapy techniques applicable to any situation. It has something to teach everyone about their own healing. I’ll share two points discussed in the documentary and how they can relate to working well in demanding environments.


The string of pearls.

Picture hundreds of pearls on a string. Each pearl is an action and each action has the same value. Through success and failure the pearls still remain on the string and you continue to add pearls to the string as you continue through life. Each pearl has a little turd in to it – everything you do will have imperfections. I am the person that puts the next pearl on the string.


This can be a good concept to embrace when working in demanding environments. When you make errors and mistakes you can think back to the string of pearls. It gives a simple way to have accountability in your actions, acknowledge that there will always be imperfections in what you do as well as also giving perspective that your action in that one moment is just part of a string of continual action and movement. That mistake is not the end of the world because there are many more moments and actions to follow.

Radical acceptance. 
Every event you experience has something in it that you can learn from. 
Create a reaction to be able to squeeze the juice out of something meaningful from shit events. There are three important caveats to practicing this however;

  1. You can’t judge yourself,

  2. Can’t tell yourself anything negative,

  3. Find something positive about it; squeeze the juice out of the lemon.

This practice switches you from negative reinforcement in to positive reinforcement (your motivation for something comes from the idea of something positive at the end). What happens when you begin to practice this is that everything becomes that little bit more meaningful. Every action, conversation or exam you sit becomes a learning experience rather than an opportunity to criticise yourself. So you find yourself in a zone of tremendous opportunity. Every event in life starts to have value and you are not leaving these encounters or events with self-criticism rather you’re leaving with an acceptance of what happened and how you can improve moving forward.


So how do these relate to a demanding environment? Well demanding environments often demand an incredibly high standard of performance. That incredibly high standard will undoubtedly lead to errors. If you can think of the string of pearls and adopt radical acceptance your motivation will begin to be source from positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement. You’ll be accountable for your actions and learning, you’ll understand there are imperfections in everything you do and when mistakes arise you will not beat yourself up instead you’ll see them as learning opportunities.

- Hugh Jones 

Stress management tips:

  1. Take Deep Breaths: When stress creeps in, take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this calming technique to instantly feel more centered and focused.

  2. Stay Active: Engage in physical activities that you enjoy, like jogging, dancing, or practicing yoga. Physical exercise releases endorphins, your body's natural mood boosters, helping to reduce stress levels.

  3. Try Meditation or Mindfulness: Set aside a few minutes each day to practice meditation or mindfulness. Apps like Calm or Headspace can guide you through relaxing sessions, helping to quiet your mind and promote mental clarity.

  4. Journal Your Thoughts: Grab a notebook and write down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling can help you process emotions, gain insights, and find clarity amidst the chaos. Consider using a journal specifically designed for stress management.

  5. Create a Study Schedule: Organize your study time by creating a realistic schedule. Breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable chunks can alleviate stress and provide a sense of control. Utilize productivity tools like todo list or Trello to stay organized.

  6. Use Aromatherapy: Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, or peppermint have calming properties. Invest in an essential oil diffuser or carry a portable rollerball to inhale the soothing scents during stressful moments.

  7. Practice Time Management: Develop effective time management skills to avoid last-minute cramming and overwhelming deadlines. Utilize productivity apps like Forest or Focus@Will to enhance your concentration and stay on track.

  8. Get Enough Sleep: Prioritize quality sleep to recharge your mind and body. Create a sleep routine by establishing a regular bedtime, keeping your sleep environment comfortable, and using sleep aids like eye masks or white noise machines if needed.

  9. Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, or university resources when stress becomes too much to handle alone. Sometimes, simply talking about your concerns with a trusted person can provide valuable relief.

  10. Consider Stress-Relief Products: Explore stress-relief products like stress balls, fidget spinners, or adult coloring books. These tactile tools can redirect your focus and provide a sense of calm during stressful situations.

White Brick Wall

Break the big, daunting things down in to small, achievable tasks.

It is really as the heading says.

When we have these big ideas of what we want to achieve it can be incredibly daunting and far too lofty. This, I feel, can lead most people down two different roads. There’ll be a group of people who see this big, lofty goal and feel it is so far out of their comfort zone they won’t even begin to start on it and so never achieve it. The other group of people will see this big, lofty goal and it will excite them. It is far outside of their comfort zone and so they want to achieve it. The problem with this group however is it can lead to this obsessive type of work which can feed in to perfectionism, cause anxiety and lead to burn-out.

I feel that a health way to approach this is to take this big goal and then break down in to small, manageable steps that are consistent. You’d look at the separate elements that your goal has, see how much time you have to achieve it and then from there break down per week what needs to be done for you to be able to achieve that goal. Once you have completed all that is needed in that day or that week for that goal then stop and rest.

So let’s take a big exam for example. Say there is an exam you will sit with 100 questions (Qs) on it and you have to score 50% or more. You know there is a question bank with 1000 practice Qs on it. You have four months before the exam. That seems very daunting to me. But let’s break it down. You know you have four months so lots of time to play with. You want to be confident before the exam so you decide to repeat the question bank twice so it becomes 2000 Qs. So four months has 16 weeks to it. That comes down to doing 500 practice Qs a month or 125 practice Qs a week. 125 practice Qs a week can be split further in to five sessions a week of 25 practice Qs. One of these sessions would likely only be from somewhere between half an hour to and hour.

So what you’ve found is your massive daunting exam with 2000 practice Qs to do in reality is only about five hours a week. You can do one hour a day on the weekdays and rest on the weekends. As long as you provide yourself with enough time and stay consistent with your work you can achieve highly but also minimise the level of anxiety you will feel about passing as well as in the run-up to the exam.

The real difficulty, it is worth mentioning, is doing that one hour a day four months before your exam! So how do you do that? Well it does take a lot of discipline but there are some good ways for you to fall in to healthy habits. I think humans have a lot less free-will than we think; we are driven by habits as it is our brain’s way of minimising energy expenditure in our actions. So, habitualise it. Create a routine, decide that in the morning before your normal daily life you’ll do that hour (or find an hour at the same time each and every day that works for you that you do it at). There’ll be an initial feeling of discomfort (this comes from noradrenaline release - your brain is learning something new and out of sort and part of that learning involves a small release of this hormone) but that is a natural part of the learning process, remind yourself of the stressful times you felt when you left things to the last-minute or remind yourself how much better your life can be if you achieve this goal. Use positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is one of the strongest motivators for humans. If you place an activity you really love after your work you’ll be more motivated to do your work. If you love playing sport, or seeing friends or cooking then tell yourself that that activity is the reward for doing that work. If you would like to take this one step further you can create a positive reinforcement dependency; so that that fun activity only happens if you do that work. You can only play sport if you do that work.

I find that when you break down these big tasks in to small achievable chunks; your life becomes a lot more balanced. You realise you have a lot more time in your day to do and enjoy the things you love outside of work. Overall, your mood improves and anxiety lowers because you know you’re on the right path to achieve the big, daunting, lofty goal you have set for yourself but you’re also not neglecting the elements of your life that you really enjoy doing.

- Hugh Jones -

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