As a kid, I remember counting down the days until summer break. Summer used to be the best months of my life. With no care in the world and zero responsibilities I could do almost anything I wanted. My friends and I spent the months leading up to it eagerly discussing everything that we wanted to do. Together we planned trips to the pool, shopping excursions at the mall and movie nights at our houses. But most importantly, we looked forward to the days where we could do absolutely nothing. As I got older, I noticed that summer break became less and less like a break. My friends and I started getting summer jobs and taking summer classes.
Now I find it hard to allow myself to relax, especially since I started college.
Starting college increased my stress. Moving out of the house and taking on harder classes can feel difficult to adjust to. Although college gave me more freedom, I also juggle more responsibilities. Sure, I don’t need to listen to a curfew, but I also need to wake up early for morning classes. I could use the weekends to hang out with my friends, but I also need to make time to do homework and study. After I finished my first year, I could not wait for summer break to recharge. However, I came across a little problem. I couldn’t relax.
I couldn’t turn my brain off.
If I found some free time in my schedule, I convinced myself that I forgot to do something important. Or I felt guilty for not being productive. I spent my entire first year in college feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, and I couldn’t shake that feeling when I started summer break. During the summer following my freshman year of college, I kept myself busy. Really busy. At one point I worked two jobs, took a summer class and any remaining free time I could squeeze in I spent with my friends. The satisfying feeling of being productive quickly fell away and turned into dread. I ignored my needs and felt myself begin to drown in all the responsibilities I took onto my plate. I ignored my mental health because I didn’t believe in myself.
My anxiety increased and I watched as summer raced by right before my eyes.
Towards the end of summer, I finally realized that I couldn’t sustain my current lifestyle. I opened up to my parents, and I decided to start going to therapy. I started my sophomore year of college not feeling refreshed. Worn down by my crazy summer, I couldn’t get back into the groove of classes. My therapist helped me realize that I’m important. My health is important. Together my therapist and I developed strategies that I could use throughout the school year to make sure that I prioritize myself.
Putting yourself first feels hard and it takes a lot of time and practice.
During my sophomore year, I created boundaries. Every night I started putting my homework away around 9:30 p.m. so that I could do something for myself. Whether that’s watching Netflix or reading a book, I noticed that I got better sleep when I allowed myself to relax before going to bed. I also tried to take one day every weekend for myself. I couldn’t recharge on the weekends if I did homework the entire time. I realized that I could carve out the time in my schedule, even if that means putting off some homework for the next day.
I took these practices and applied them to my summer break this year.
Already, I can feel a big difference. I’m much happier and live more in the moment. I made sure to cut back on activities and responsibilities in order to make time for myself. I got better at saying no to people when I need a break. I even make sure to reserve days for me to do absolutely nothing because that’s the purpose of break. Sometimes doing absolutely nothing feels good for your health.