“You should be guiltlessly taking breaks for yourself,” my art history professor said after a student mentioned that they bought themselves a fish and an aquarium instead of doing homework the night before.
Despite the sort of randomness of deciding to buy yourself a pet in the midst of deadlines and homework, everyone in the classroom was able to relate. Every student understands the procrastination they will inevitably face and the measures they will take in order to avoid completing an assignment.
When this student confessed her particular choice of procrastination, there was no guilt or regret in her voice. She was fully confident and proud of her decision. The class laughed and began to describe ways in which they procrastinate, too. At first, I joined in on the laughter. But while our class continued with a lecture over impressionism, I couldn’t seem to focus on the blue and green strokes of paint on Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise.” Rather, my professor’s words echoed in my head.
“You should be guiltlessly taking breaks for yourself.”
School has always been an outlet where I could forget my responsibilities at home and fully immerse myself into a subject I’m passionate about. I love to learn. Besides being engaged with the topics I learn in class, I have to say that I am a good student, as well. I hand in papers on time, spend my evenings reading passages from our textbook and try to ask questions in class. However, like any student, I have my moments of procrastination. But as I was sitting in that art history class, I slowly came to the realization that during my periods of procrastination, I always punished myself.
I would constantly feel guilty when I took a break from my studies. Rather than fully enjoying my time of rest, I was stuck panicking about how much work was piling up while I took the space to relax. If I fell off the schedule I planned for myself, I would make up for lost time by pulling all-nighters and sacrificing time with friends in order to accomplish everything on my to-do list.
It wasn’t healthy.
This unhealthy relationship has continued to extend itself into other aspects of my life. The guilt looms over me in everything that I do. Eating dinner with my family? I’m thinking about the paper I should be working on that’s due next week. The drive to school? I’m counting the pages that I have to read for tomorrow’s lecture.
School has become less of an outlet and more of a place of anxiety and stress. I wasn’t interested in my classes anymore. Projects felt more like a chore rather than an opportunity to explore within my field. I have heard the same story from my close friends, too. They are so caught up in deadlines and assignments that they forget to take a moment to breathe.
Why is it so difficult for us to take breaks? Why do breaks not feel like “breaks”?
For many, including me, social media has become a default source of “relaxation.” While taking five minutes to scroll on social media in between readings may feel like a break, it really does more harm than good. According to a survey by the Huffington Post, using social media as your break actually reduces academic performance. Your brain doesn’t get to have a moment of rest— it is constantly being stimulated.
So, I encourage you, as I am encouraging myself, to search for another way to get some rest.
I know it can get tiring to always be told that you need to “work on your sleep schedule” or “take an afternoon off” or “avoid social media while doing homework.” But there is truth behind these words. It’s incredibly important for us students to take some time for ourselves without feeling guilty. Taking breaks can actually improve our retention ability, heighten social skills and ultimately help us with our studies.
While it may not feel like it, there will always be enough time to get things done. There’s no hurt in setting aside time to take a nap, or to have the sudden urge to clean your room in the wee hours of the morning or to make yourself a small snack.
You have a lot on your plate. Unfortunately, you’re not superhuman. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But that’s okay.
Breathe. Stretch. Go buy a pet fish.
You deserve it.