Lately it seems like busyness, stress, and lack of self-care have become status symbols. Particularly in America, if you aren’t busy all the time, if you get 8 hours of sleep, if you aren’t stressed out, it can feel like you aren’t working hard enough based on societal standards of what “hardworking” looks like. Although no one would say it, there is a silent standard that says you’re either working as hard as (or harder than) humanly possible or you’re lazy and less valuable. Sound familiar? Sound true?
Answering the simple question, “how are you?” can feel like a minefield. Is it simply easier to deflect the truth and garner attention with a reply that indicates how busy we are, how tired? Will that protect us from the judgment that the way we live our lives is more comfortable than others’? Culture tells us that the correct way to respond to this question is not a simple “good” or “bad”, but instead with a resounding “exhausted!”. This can be particularly true in college, and maybe even in high school and middle school as well. At many schools there is a cultural norm that if you aren’t pulling all-nighters, you’re not studying enough. Or if you are able to get good grades and sleep, your major is too easy. This false, dichotomous thinking can lead to feelings of great shame and guilt if left unaddressed. There is so much pressure to prove to others that you are busy and therefore that you aren’t slacking off. But what does logic say? If you have any free time, society tells you, “you’re lazy”, but logic would respond with, “Good for you! You’ve taken care of things well enough to take some time for self-care.”
And there is no shame in taking care of yourself! There are times, especially in college, when it may be necessary to pull an all-nighter to study for an important test. However, if you manage your time well, it is possible to get good grades, enough sleep, and even have a social life, no matter how hard your major or classes are. And even outside of school, it is okay to take a break. Recognizing that you are feeling overwhelmed and overworked (perhaps from the job or your kids or whatever else it may be) and then letting yourself have some time to relax is not weakness or laziness. In the end, when you give yourself time to relax, decompress, practice self-care ( like sleeping, eating, socializing, etc.), when you do return to whatever work you have to do, you will have so much more energy, drive, and ability to accomplish your work well.
Busyness is not a status symbol. You don’t have to prove to your friends and family that you are working hard by working yourself to death. You don’t have to keep striving harder and harder and taking less and less care of yourself because you feel like you haven’t pushed hard enough yet. When you have free time in a day, you don’t have to allow the desire or temptation for productivity to wreck you. You know yourself and your limits better than anyone else, and if you can study enough to get good grades without pulling an all-nighter, do that! In class the next day, when everyone else is complaining (bragging) about how they didn’t get any sleep, you don’t have to feel ashamed or inferior because you chose to prioritize sleep. In fact, your decision to take care of your body and mind and soul proves your maturity and will actually make your focus better for the day and whatever tests it brings.
I know that it feels like weakness to admit to others that you are taking care of yourself, but you are worth it. What’s the point in striving so hard for something when you’re barely well enough to appreciate what you accomplished? I promise you, it is possible to achieve a balance. It is possible to work hard and take care of yourself. And it is even possible to work hard without feeling overwhelmed. You are not obligated to be busy to prove your worth. You have innate worth as a human being, and you can live in light of that truth by taking care of yourself.
Laura Lanier is an LPC Intern under supervision by Christy Graham, LPCS. Her work focuses on adolescents and adults. She has discounts for college students and a flexible schedule. Call her for an appointment. 940-222-8703 ext 705. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.