I have always been a studious person. I would make flash cards for my vocabulary tests, form study groups with my friends and wake up before the sun to study for an exam. As I grew up and coursework became more rigorous, I did all I had to do to ensure an "A". Sometimes, this meant giving up something dear to most of us: sleep.
When I started high school, I had no idea how vital time-management skills were going to be for my survival. I walked into the building on my first day and was quickly blindsided. I began to receive enormous amounts of homework. My book bag felt heavier than me and the bags under my eyes were darker than a cold winter night. At first, I simply stayed up doing all the work, and somehow made time. All was well until I added extra-curricular activities, something colleges love.
I joined my school’s Mock Trial team and again, walked in blindly, having no idea how intense the experience would be. I was not prepared for my schedule at all. I took as many classes as my school would allow, which at the time was nine. I even took my mandatory gym class during something called “X Period” at seven in the morning, to fit more classes in during the day. The rest of my classes opened at eight. At the start of the year, I thought I was undefeatable; sleep was not something I needed, I could do anything and everything at once.
I would wake up at six in the morning, head to my gym class, then I’d spend nearly seven hours in class, with a small break for lunch at noon. After that, I’d run straight to my Mock Trial practice, where I would stay for 2 to 3 hours. I spent all day exerting my brain in class, and then I voluntarily went to exert it even more. My first year on the team was rough. I had to be trained and I had to learn everything about Mock Trial. I was assigned the role of a lawyer after auditions, which meant more dedication and a heavier workload.
My daily schedule seemed bearable to an outsider, but my family and friends knew something was deeply wrong with me. I would nearly fall asleep during my early morning classes because I would work all day and then stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning to complete all the homework I had, and to review for my Mock Trial competition. My teachers began asking me if I was okay in the middle of their lectures and my school counselor questioned me about my schedule multiple times. I was a mess. I did not allow myself to even think about the words, “break”, “rest”, or “relax.” I wanted to be superwoman; I yearned to be a two-handed juggler with twenty things to juggle.
After months of me not sleeping and developing heart palpitations from my lack of rest, I decided it was time for change. I went to my counselor and adjusted my schedule. There was no way I would leave Mock Trial because I loved it, and to this day, I am grateful for the experience I had. She helped me sort things out and told me something that I’ll never forget. She said, “You want to do it all at once. Take a breath and go at your own pace. Things will only work out once you put your health first.”
Her words stuck with me. She helped me realize that I was doing more than enough and that if doing even more than that meant sacrificing my health, it was not worth it because, in the end, I would do twenty things badly instead of five things thoroughly.
At the time, I went on Tumblr a lot and I once saw a post that read, “Mental Health Days.” The post said that when possible, we should all aim to allow ourselves to have a day to relax; to get away from all the stress our lives bring. Sometimes we begin to fade away because we have no time to re-paint over the withering colors.
I incorporated this into my life after that and began to take a day off from school about two to three times per semester, or as needed. I picked days where I knew I did not have tests to make up later. I knew I would have work to make up, but that was okay. I felt better after having a day to myself. I would go back to school feeling replenished and happy. My mind was rested and ready to learn, and I could complete extra work with ease. This experience helped me learn that taking care of myself was extremely important and should always be at the top of my to-do list.
When I started college, I wondered if these rest days applied to life after high school. One of my professors was giving a lecture about time management. She told us that it is important to have days to ourselves and that when she felt like she truly needed it, she would take up one of her sick days to stay home and recollect. Her reasoning was that although mental burnouts would not necessarily be placed in the same category as the Flu, they affect your body as well, and can lead to you becoming prone to illness later on.
Don’t ever think that you are weak for needing a break from time to time. We are all human. We burn out and sometimes need a new match to light us up again. Everyone feels exhausted if they don’t get proper rest, and unfortunately, in our country, sleep and mental health are often frowned upon. Americans have to be constantly working or studying. Failing to do these things carries a stigma in the culture, which is why many parents are against their kids missing any school days unless they have a fever or a bloody hand.
If you’re still living with your parents and they don’t understand that sometimes you need to put your mental health first, try to explain to them that taking a much-needed break will only make you more productive. Be judicious about the number of breaks you take, because there is a fine line between taking a breather and laying in bed for days. A healthy amount of rest will get you on the right track.
If you feel overwhelmed with your schedule like I did, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you trust to help you sort things out. You can definitely go to class, do extracurriculars, and work at a paying job, but you must first learn to manage your time and disperse it evenly so that you feel good and give your best to all you do.