Before the pandemic hit, I was a very busy and high-strung student. My schedules were filled with extra-curriculars, volunteer work, and school clubs. There wasn’t a single day where I found myself with nothing to work on or a class to attend. But when quarantine began, my exams were cancelled, and extracurricular activities were paused indefinitely. I was amongst one of the many teens trying to fill up my day with productive things to do. At one point, I realized I was constantly on a mission to fill up each second of my day with a productive activity that I was long overdue for a break.
Many of us are in constant fear of being unproductive to the point that giving ourselves a break is difficult. This can be attributed to the fact that we live in a fast-paced world. With the resources of high-speed internet and technology, work is expected to be completed quickly while maintaining a high quality of content. Idealistically, work can be completed in a short amount of time due to technology, but the human mind does not function in a linear pattern. For example, it is idealistic to expect students to finish and present an assignment within two days, but realistically, students have more than just schoolwork to tackle during the day. However, instead of choosing to accept that humans require time to breathe and relax, we increase our self-expectations to unattainable heights. When the goal is to have a work ethic like a robot, it is simply not achievable.
It is hard to accept that we are tired and burnt out, because our self-expectations cause us to feel like we have failed if we decide to press pause. What’s more stress-inducing is that high standards don’t just come from ourselves, but multiple sources. One that many students may relate to are societal expectations. Society is constantly telling us to dress a certain way, listen to a particular genre of music, and to speak in a certain manner. We don’t just have high standards for academics, but for our social lives as well. We try our best to hang out with others and to keep conversations going. We are constantly bombarded with messages and emails that we feel pressured to reply to everything right away.
Keeping yourself busy 24/7 is a bad habit which enables you to fool yourself into thinking that you are excelling and succeeding. No human can function and perform at the best of their abilities without taking a break. From experience, the quality of work will decrease over time as the stress of maintaining a facade of productivity will wear you out. Sometimes, a small pause is beneficial.
Reasons why taking a break is important:
Building up stress is harmful to not just your mental health, but to your physical health as well. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can negatively affect all major systems in one’s body. Tense muscles, fevers, and bad digestion are all signs of higher stress levels in one’s body. Prolonged stress in the body is dangerous for one’s health as it causes an imbalance of hormones. A small walk every day during lunch, a morning yoga session, or a 10-minute workout can help regulate stress and keep the body in a better condition.
Taking a break has long-term benefits. Many people tend to overlook this aspect of relaxing. Sometimes taking a break seems like a waste of time in the middle of a hectic schedule, but studies have shown that daily breaks in which you disconnect yourself from work can decrease tiredness. This allows you to pick up where you left off with more energy and passion than before.
Give yourself time to reconnect with yourself. Working in an environment that is constantly demanding in terms of creativity and innovation, it is easy to get stuck and feel a lack of inspiration. Writers experience writer’s block, content creators will have a moment when they can’t think of original ideas, and even students will experience a lack of drive to keep studying. Hence a break is necessary to do things that you find calming and interesting. Maybe resume a hobby that you put on hold or try something new. Take the time to find inspiration and become motivated.
Remember that you are entitled to taking time off for yourself. Give yourself the importance and care that you deserve, because being burnt out is not the path to productivity.