“Take a deep breath,” my mom used to say.
This was always one of the first suggestions offered when I would come to my mom about how I was overwhelmed — when I did not know how to approach the ominous to-do list that sometimes felt too daunting to begin.
As I later realized, the things I had to get done were not truly as scary as they appeared, but rather very possible, once I got past the initial fear factor. As life moved on, my tasks began to pile up, and the number of commitments I had grew, but, following my mom’s advice, I felt like everything was within reason if I approached everything with a sense of calm.
Coming to college, this to-do list grew even more. I suddenly found myself rushing around at a rate I had never experienced. The regimented, stable schedule of the past was no longer, but rather, life had become always subject to change. It was not the level of involvement or the inconsistency of my schedule that became difficult for me, but finding time for myself.
As we find ourselves in the throes of the semester, with midterm exams, papers, projects and other commitments, I can personally attest to the fact that I have pushed self-care to the side. Things get busier, there are higher stakes on assignments and the general amounts of work and snow simultaneously continue to pile up. I understand that the hectic nature of college is to be expected. I also understand that handling this does not pose a quandary for everyone, but I feel like in the hustle and bustle of every day, I forget to take five minutes to just be.
Recently, my friends and I were recapping our days and arrived at this realization that, in this high-stress time, we could not remember the last time that any of us stopped, took a deep breath and maybe even did something for ourselves. Maybe we forget sometimes. Maybe, in the midst of everything, it does not register that even the slightest means of slowing our productivity is a possibility. We can press pause, and remember that, for example, sleeping, watching an episode of television, listening to a podcast or going on a run — though not when it’s too icy — are all things that can help make our to-do lists a little less daunting and improve morale in the process.
Taking time for ourselves does not have to be a grand heist of time or resources; it can be something small. It does not have to hinder our abilities to finish our work or attend that meeting, but can be an incentive to get those things done.
This semester has proved the busiest I have ever had and has led me to the understanding that there is always something else to work on. There is always an exam to prepare for or an event to attend. Those things are not going to go away. But it is actively choosing to sometimes prioritize my own well-being — my need for a break — that will serve as the most beneficial in the long term.
I feel as though in this bubble in which we live here at the University of Michigan, sometimes it is easy for me to forget that I can take a step back. I do have the choice to make time for myself, even if it feels like said time is a luxury, because though it may not be finishing my paper 20 minutes sooner, I will equally benefit from giving myself that break and doing something to break up the routine.
It is with this that I challenge myself to make time, to put my work to the side and give myself the time and space to decompress before continuing on. Being completely candid, this is something that I am fairly vocal about but struggle with in practice. Moving forward, into the rest of the semester, onto the next and into life, I know that stressors will be forever present, and expectations will always accompany them. With this, I want to begin to form this positive habit of giving myself the option to take a break, or break with the schedule that seems so logistically coordinated that there could not possibly be a moment to stop. As tasks become checks in the box, I have to remember that my well-being and ability to feel as though I can handle everything that comes my way is the most important, even if making time for myself is as simple as just taking a deep breath.
Samantha Szuhaj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.