When to Admit You’re a Busy College Zombie

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When’s the last time any of us got eight hours of sleep? Are our workloads killing us, or is limping through the semester just part of college life? In a demanding academic environment, busyness is par for the course (or courses). But what does it really mean to be busy, and when does it start to become dangerous? Everyone feels a little undead sometimes, but if the sound of empty energy drink cans rattling in your backpack makes heads turn, you might have a problem.

Your definition of “busy” probably depends on your major. After all, some zombies crawl, and some zombies run. As a journalism student in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, I know what it means to be constantly on the clock. But while story deadlines stand over my shoulder, STEM kids tackle their labs, and students in more theoretical majors read their days away.

University of Arizona senior Aline Diaz, a gender and women’s studies major, spends most of her time reading about 150 pages a week on top of classwork and job applications. “To me, being busy means having a constant undercurrent of stress and sometimes panic,” she said. “I know I’m busy when I’m adding things to my to-do list faster than I can cross them off.”

While some students want to avoid jam-packed schedules, others approach busyness with positivity, like University of Florida sophomore Rochae Torrence, a criminology and family, youth and community sciences major. “Being busy isn’t about how much you do or how often you do those things. This is one of the biggest mistakes that I made during my first few semesters in college,” she said. “I found myself spending countless hours in the library yet getting little to nothing accomplished. Now, I have a completely different understanding on what it means to be busy,” Torrence said. “Being busy means studying smarter (not longer), giving back to the community (even if it’s just an hour per week) and having time for yourself.”

Sure, we can choose our majors, clubs and classes, but do we really choose to be busy? As I started to lose count of the number of all-nighters I pulled last semester, I blearily wondered how much of my sleeplessness was self-inflected. I’ll admit that most of the work that keeps me up at night is done on a volunteer basis (with the knowledge I’m boosting my future career), but other students aren’t so lucky.

“My friend for example, receives money through federal work study, as well as a Bright Futures scholarship, and so she is currently taking 18 credits and working a job on campus,” University of South Florida sophomore Nyasia Vazquez said. “She only works 10 hours a week, but because of her work and school schedule, she is busy on most days. When she is not busy, she feels as though she is never doing enough.”

Based on what I’ve seen firsthand, directly and indirectly, the college system enables overworking. Lord Fairfax Community College freshman Jade Mason, a general studies major, agrees. “Different professors and classes often have deadlines or assignments that align poorly with each other, and I don’t believe that helping stress levels of students is the highest priority for colleges,” she said. When you throw the trials of adulting into the mix, sometimes everything feels impossible. “It seems like nearly everyone that I come into contact with is juggling college like a chicken with their head cut off,” Torrence said.

As students, where do we draw the line? Most people agree that you’re overdoing it when basic human functions are a strain on your calendar. “Being too busy, in my opinion, means that one has very little time to engage in non-stressful activities,” UF sophomore Sarah Dominique, a health education and behavior major, said. Other symptoms of zombification include penciling in mealtimes down to the minute in your planner and forgetting what your bed looks like. If you’re starting to lose yourself in your work, it’s a good time to take a step back.

Dr. Jennifer Stuart, a licensed psychologist at the UF, said that we tend to think that any time we don’t spend working is wasted, when in reality it’s the opposite. “Unstructured time is actually restorative time,” she said. “It’s very productive.” We weren’t meant to always be under pressure—we physically need breaks to fully calm down. If you don’t even have a few minutes to breathe, Stuart suggests really evaluating your workload and cutting out what won’t kill you to miss. Block off rest periods if you need to.

Whatever busyness looks like to you, when it comes to time management, you’re going to hear a lot about “balance,” which is easier to say than do. But the best advice I’ve ever heard about taking care of yourself when you’ve got a lot on your plate (or multiple plates) is to learn how to say no. Prioritize your physical and mental health over your obligations.

Remember: You’re a person before you’re ever a student or employee. Not a busy college zombie.

I’m a College Zombie Working 3 Jobs

Jess from New Girl crying because she's a busy college zombie

Vincent is a University of Florida journalism sophomore. He loves video games, the vast depths of the ocean and cake.

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