You just handed in your last exam (cue Rhianna’s “Work”). The relief feels like finishing the last sprint of a marathon or—let’s be real—the last scoop of Nutella at the bottom of the jar. When you finally lay down on your bed and begin to embark on the Netflix binge of the century…the anxiety starts. Why don’t I have a summer internship? Is it too late to find an internship? Will I be unemployed for the rest of my life if I babysit again this summer?
College students experience intense pressure. Throughout the school year, we need to juggle good grades, extracurricular activities, possibly a part-time job, staying in shape and on top of all of that, finding time for a healthy social life. Then when summer finally dawns on us the pressure doesn’t end.
Students who work typical high school jobs may feel like they’re falling behind next to those spending two months studying abroad in Italy or interning with a U.S. Senator in Washington D.C. If we want to get ahead of the rat race, we feel like we have to “make the most of summer” with either a career-focused job or internship. We always think we should do more and it’s not okay to take a chill pill and rejuvenate after a stressful year.
“I never understood how after three months of heat, sand and snow cones, we were expected to be refreshed and totally crush it academically for the next nine months,” said Katharine Heller, co-founder of the Struggle Bus Podcast, a weekly advice podcast that discusses self-care, mental health and various other topics sent in by listeners. “I once had a teacher who thought it would be hilarious to say, ‘You had three months to do nothing. Now the real work begins!’”
Don’t get me wrong: Laziness and procrastination aren’t cool, either. But why crumble under the pressure and overexert yourself instead of rejuvenating? You shouldn’t waste away this summer re-watching all nine seasons of The Office, but you also shouldn’t feel like a failure if you didn’t score that high-end internship at The Washington Post.
Relax about the fact that you should take time to relax this summer. “…For those who have to work or take classes, a summer break often doesn’t feel like much of a ‘break,’” Heller said. “Take this opportunity to work on a very important life skill I wish I had learned in college: Putting yourself first. By working or taking classes, figuring out how to take some ‘you’ time, you’re one step closer to being awesome at adulting.”
So even if you’re working your high school job and taking a few classes this summer, take a couple personal days as well. Make those “Tasty” recipes you keep drooling over on Facebook, go on a spontaneous beach trip with your friends or re-read your favorite novel outside and enjoy the beautiful summer weather.
Relaxing this summer will not only relieve your stress, but also boost your emotional, physical and mental health. “Over the years I’ve learned that you can always carve out a little time to unwind—even if it’s just 10 minutes to rest, read a book or play a game on your phone,” Heller said. “Self-care should be incorporated all year round.”
Use the extra free time to figure out if your major is actually right for you, and if not, begin exploring your other interests and talents. “I think that even if you don’t have to work, it is beneficial to work on something during the summer break, like volunteering, taking an internship or working as a restaurant server just to get the experience,” said Heller. Who knows, you might volunteer at a soup kitchen and realize you want to major in social work.
You may need to take advantage of this free time to discover something new about yourself. “It’s an opportunity to have new experiences with…traveling and stuff because we can’t do that during school,” said University of Maryland sophomore Isabelle Minkin. You need this time to recover from the past year, so that you don’t feel burnt out and overwhelmed by the looming semester.
Having a responsibility-free summer doesn’t mean you’re going brain dead. Take the opportunity to get productive on your own terms. “I don’t think…you need to spend the entire summer sitting by the pool and laying around,” Sally Tamarkin, said, co-founder of the Struggle Bus Podcast,. “I think you can do all kinds of fun active stuff and also work a bit, too…as long as you do get some time to decompress from the year that’s just passed.”
Take a summer class or two, work at your favorite coffee shop, take up yoga— whatever! Try something new, but don’t allow our culture’s renown for over-achieving get the best of you. Drake said it best: You only live once. You put yourself through enough during the school year; give yourself a little credit and chill out.
Use this summer to catch up with old friends and take a vacation (or staycation). School may have you feeling #stressed, but summer should have you feeling #blessed.