American society tells us that the absence of activity is always laziness, apathy, entitlement and idleness. We are told from the moment we open our eyes that if we take a breath, we’re throwing our lives away with our couch potato ways.
We’re told that we need to always be on our feet, always be moving on to the next opportunity if we want to succeed. This mindset drives us to push ourselves past our limits and exhaust ourselves to the point of mental illness, all in the name of “success.”
I experienced firsthand what this cycle of pressure can do to a person this past semester. I took 20 credit hours and two jobs, all while trying to maintain a couple of clubs I’d started up, as well as my relationships.
I took on odd jobs, like babysitting and dogsitting, and I tried my hardest to plan my summer and my last year of university almost to the day. It was exhausting, I was miserable, and as you can imagine, a lot of things did not go well.
Over the three-month semester, I had a lot of really low lows and a handful of nervous breakdowns.
I started going to counseling again because I at least had the clarity of mind to recognize that I was not being healthy. My counselor told me to take a break and rest my body and my mind. With only a few weeks left in the semester, I told her and myself that I could survive through finals and into summer break.
But a relaxing summer wasn’t part of my plan. I was going to Portland, Oregon to live with family; I had a part-time job that I was going to work remote for about 10 hours a week; I was taking 16 credit hours; I’d applied for a slew of internships that would demand anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week. Somehow, I’d convinced myself that this was going to work and that I was going to be happy.
In the last two weeks of the semester, I experienced a couple crises that really did me in. I realized that even though I’d made it through the semester with all of my commitments, I’d emerged at the end so fragile that I couldn’t hold up against some pretty mild storms.
So I decided that enough was enough: I was going to take a real break and allow myself to experience true rest. I dropped the internship search and decided to keep my summer responsibilities to a minimum.
What this experience taught me is that overexertion and burnout is real, as much as you might convince yourself that you’re stronger than that. You can take on too many classes or jobs or activities, and you can be stretched so thin that you snap.
The pressure to fit in—especially in university settings—and the pressure to succeed and do the most can be so harmful because it can not only push you beyond what you’re capable of, but it can also blind you to the fact that you might be passed your breaking point.
It is OK to take a break. It is OK to breathe a little. It is OK to take some time to yourself and do something you enjoy, even it’s something as simple as reading a book, watching an episode of your favorite TV show, taking a walk or going for a run, getting coffee with a friend, attending a yoga class, or even meditating for just 15 minutes between class or on your lunch break.
You won’t miss much in just a few moments of peace, and even though working and learning is important, it is not as important as your mental or physical health.