Over the past few days, as happens at the end of most every term, I've been in the same predicament with the same kinds of struggles. This time, however, they were much harder to weather. That's because sometimes, whatever rewards you set up for yourself, grading is a long, messy, uphill struggle, and it's going to have frustrating, maddening moments that make you think you're horrible at your job and should quit immediately. On days like that, the only thing you can do to get through it is get through it.
But it doesn't hurt to do a vigorous working out first. Sure does relieve stress.
Then go home, brew a cup of something you like, put a snack within reach to sustain you, and get started on the stack.
Once you've graded a few papers, step away from the work and hug the nearest friendly furry animal you can find. Cats (and/or purr machines, apparently) have healing powers. Didn't you know?
But don't stay away too long. It's early yet, so get back to it. Something that may help at this point would be to turn on one of your favorite movies and let it play in the background. This is like having a good friend in the room, even if that good friend is a cheesy, predictable love story with unconventionally beautiful actors playing key roles.
Or put on an 80s classic. They've got so much melodrama, you're sure to feel better about your situation.
With these dependable buddies in the room, you'll be able to get through at least another five or six essays before drafting your letter of resignation and moving into a cave in the woods to eat berries and wild onions and talk to worms.
But don't leave now! You're halfway through!
Halfway-Through Warning: don't be tempted to look to the nearest beagle for help! He'll only embody your despair and make you realize your spirit animal is a bloated hound on antidepressants, wearing a shabby three-piece suit.
Instead, take a catnap. You've earned it.
Once you've rested, get up and take a walk. You might just meet good friends along the way, and friends are great for providing perspective. Take Timmons T. Toad, for example. Timmons is out most every night singing: "I lived another day!" (This is especially remarkable since he lives two feet from a busy road on a busy sidewalk.) Perspective like that can give you the courage to grade a few more papers and the pluck to award the grades that are deserved.
Back at home, it's time to return to the stack. Have someone lovingly cook dinner for you while you grade one or two more essays or exams. Your reward should be something wholesome but as greasy as possible, like fried eggs and sweet potato hash browns. But don't eat so much that you fall asleep straight after, or nothing will get done.
Instead, push through until you're absolutely certain you can't grade another paper, then grade one more. Afterward, you'll be surprised to discover that the day's mountain of work is now a molehill you can easily climb the next morning, which you're to do very first thing to get it over with.
Post-Grading Warning: Once grades are in, what might happen to you is what happened to me. I thought, "I need to go celebrate another successful term! I need ice cream! Sunshine! Loud music with the windows rolled down!" So I got into the car at rush hour in 95 degree weather and wound up in traffic all by myself, wishing I had a friend to go along, feeling overwhelmed with thoughts from the day, and ending up with a dense cupcake crowding the stress knots in my belly.
What I really needed was a nice long nap to clear my head. A hot bath might work for you. Or a massage. Whatever you need to unwind, do that. When I woke up, my brain had rested, my body had relaxed, and all seemed balanced again. Dinner: Out! Fish and chips and grilled cheese sandwiches at the nearest English(ish) pub. After that, a walk around the park, where the crescent moon reminded me how little a stack of papers really is, and where holding hands with my hubby in the warm summer air reminded me that I'm loved and everything's gonna be okay.
"...life’s only challenge is dealing with the single moment you are having right now. Before I recognized this, I was constantly trying to solve my entire life — battling problems that weren’t actually happening. Anyone can summon the resolve to deal with a single, present moment..." ~ David Cain