Maintaining a Healthy Mind while in Design School

Portraits were helped taken by my brother, RJ

The demands of design school can be tough, especially when it asks for multiple projects to be done at once within a space of few months. Sometimes, projects are preferred to be unique from one another. There are multiple nights I would find myself yawning at the computer screen or at the paper patterns at late hours of the night for weeks. I would push myself to finish the project to an excellent standard in the hopes of getting that one little letter: A. Most of the time, the letter surprises me with its presence and the feeling is rewarding. However, there are times, when my health is left unchecked, that my body would suffer the consequences. There’s a never-ending ache between my shoulder blades, a patch of hair fell out of one area of my head (now finally grown back) and an uncomfortable enlargement of veins on the lower part of my body. I apologize if it may sound disturbing, but let it be your warning sign too.

Stress, at its best, help us perform under pressure. At least for me, knowing that the outside pressure of a project (as in deadline, etc) pushes me to work harder and finish the work. Left unchecked, though, it will cause the body and mind to react badly. More often than not, it is more negative to our mind and body, than it is a positive one. As the week of 9th through 15th of October was mental awareness week, I gave mental (as well as physical) health a run-down and see where it’s at. So I thought I might reveal the things I do around my design studies and projects altogether whenever it gets too demanding.

Before I begin, I’d just like to point out that these are things I do personally to help myself to de-stress. I do not claim these to be based on medical proof. If you find that your stress-level is triggering anything medically diagnosed, please see a specialist. These are, again, things that help me when I feel the stress are piling up to prevent the stress from taking over my health.

Take multiple breaks

It is impossible to create anything on a tired mind and body. No one is expecting anyone to intake food continuously without a pause for breathing or water, and nor should anyone be expected to not take a bit of a break from creative work. Creative work uses a lot of mental and physical energy, which requires replenishing every now and again. Whenever I work on my projects at school, I often find that every hour or s, I’d slump on the back of my sit and stretched my arms upward. I’d blink continuously to adjust my dry eyes from looking at tiny details from my pattern papers. I’d stand up, take my tin water bottle and have a bit of a walk to the other side of the building for a cold water. Air and sunlight, unfortunately, does not flow generously in our classroom (when I was at Southern Institute of Technology). If we wanted sun and fresh air, we’d take about five to ten minutes of break and get coffee while at it. Usually, I would get more creative after a little bit of break. Just like the muscles when working out, our bodies know exactly when to stop when it gets painful. So should we when the brain gets too overworked.

Get moving

Physical workout actually releases endorphins that cause a pain relief effect (says the Dictionary). The purpose of stress is to warn ourselves that our mind and body are overworked (a migraine, backaches, negative thoughts, etc). For me, the stillness and silence that yoga gives allow my chatty brain a bit of a stretch mainly because yoga requires and forces one to focus. While I do harder physical workouts at the gym, when I’m entering the realm of stress, the hardcore physical activity usually adds to my stress. Sometimes, when money is not an issue, I’d jump into the pool and let the water drain the noise out. Sometimes, I’d go out and take a bit of a walk at a nearby quiet street or park. Anything that allows me to stop thinking about my work and just get moving.

Travel somewhere

Traveling does not always mean international. Travel to an area you’ve never been before and often times it stimulates the creative brain, too. Often times a change of scenery gives one a different perspective that challenges the brain, even pushing creativity beyond its comfortable box. There were multiple times when I get stressed and I knew going home would not help, my hubby and I would drive around, taking roads unusual to the ones we’d take. Sometimes, I’d visit a friend. Or take a route different from what I’d normally take and have a nosy of what’s going on around. Doing so stops you from obsessing over your design and notice that there’s more to the world to see and explore.


Take time to be with others

For a weekend, while in Invercargill, I left my laptop (well, really I have no choice since I stupidly restored it to factory setting without a time machine back up) and it allowed me to engage with the people I have not seen for a while. Having the possibility of working on assignments around always distracts me from having quality time with friends and family. Knowing and accepting that I have no access to my projects forced me to be present during my time with the friends and family I have not seen in a while. We are normally social beings, even introverts (that’s why we create platforms). Connecting with others helps with our sanity and hearing different stories from people around us help connect our achievements, problems, concerns, and goals with those of others eliminating the idea that we are an island. It’s a chance to talk about projects to and maybe it will create ideas that needed to level up the work.

Intake Food, Preferrable Healthy

I chose to go vegetarian a few months back, with an exception of having a bit of seafood here and there. The benefits have shown itself on my body: I have more energy, my body feels lighter, my mind more nourished. I would leave my vegetable promotion another day, while I point out the importance of prioritizing the nourishment of the body. I have encountered so many who would choose not to feed themselves for financial or dietary reasons. It’s bull* because the body needs food and water more than anything. EAT. Preferably more vegetables and fruits on your plate than greasy takeouts. However, I have experienced many nights I’d be stuck working on projects unable to cook meals for myself. Instant ramen noodles, sandwiches or KFC would accompany me in those nights. Don’t allow hunger get bored and leave you.

Find your sweet spot

By sweet spot I mean to find that one thing the helps you de-stress. I know creatives find pleasure in the actual work they are doing, especially in the stages that it presents itself as imagined, or when it surprises us how it went alive on its own. I am too. However, sometimes, for me, the starting point is especially stressful. Fear and indecisiveness shackle my creative work to begin. Before I could begin, the stress would barge into my brain making every decision making extra difficult. So before I can destress through my work, I still have to destress through my research and development stage. Times like this, I would watch a movie or read a book, anything that allows me to engage with my imagination. Romantic comedies, self-help fiction, musicals, cartoons: those are my narrative sweet spot. It’s easy, it’s unrealistic and it’s a gateway to my imagination. On rare occasions, music becomes that sweet spot (Although It’s more of a work accompaniment than a source for relaxation). Other times, a cuddle. Other times, an alone time at a cafe. Wherever it may be, whatever it could be, let it be something that engages you with yourself, on your own, that brings you happiness.

Talk to Someone

It is a very uncomfortable situation to talk about problems and stress, I get it. Even I had problems opening up to my husband and family, thinking I’d be dumping problems onto them. However, I always find to never underestimate to power of sharing your problems with someone; a friend, a colleague, a family member, a professional, a religious server. What’s important is that problems and stress are let out, especially on crazy days where the mind is juggling more than one work. Take advantage of university counseling and religious staff – who are trained to listen –  especially if you find it difficult to open up to someone who knows you. They will help you find the root of the problems, as well as help you find your path to healing without your troubles leaving the four corners of their office. Find help, and not bottle up any feelings or problems.

Top: Glassons
Pants: Mirrou
(Although, these are old designs)

Don’t let your mental health take a back seat. Stress may overcome you, which in turn will affect your work and further your mental health. It is dangerous when mental health is left unchecked. I know I am not be medically diagnosed with mental health issues, but that does not mean I am safe from it. I know it can be a path for anyone. I hope, whether you are or not, to take a moment and find time to assess yourself, breathe, talk to people and let them know what’s going on. Believe me, the world isn’t as dark as you might think if only you’d let the light come in. Start somewhere. Start now. Take a break. Talk to someone.

Leave me a comment if you need someone to talk too. I do to. Let’s help each other out.




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