As a culture, we have come to believe that, as individuals, we do not hold any value within our society unless we are constantly contributing to its improvement. We idolize people who are always busy and ridicule those who take time off to care for themselves or others. This mindset of “get as much done as possible at any given time” is particularly present at Concord Academy. Students are pressured to always be busy, whether with homework, sports, clubs, or something else (“Shouldn’t you know?”) found to fill their time. As a result, students are caught trying to justify their stress to others while internally undervaluing themselves.
I have never been more aware of this mentality than during my senior fall. Seniors compared ourselves to others, then complained to anyone who would listen about how stressed we were. Instead of sympathizing with our friends as we all had a collective meltdown about the college process, we tried to one-up each other about how stressed we were. Conversations heard in the “Senior Section” of the Stu-Fac often comprised people listing off all of their upcoming major assignments, the due dates for their college applications, and whatever else was stressing them out.
Sometimes venting is the only thing that helps. But there are ways to relieve stress without competing with others, which is something I am trying to improve on. I have found that going for a brisk walk, watching a twenty-minute episode of a funny television show, and simply hanging out with friends and trying our best not to talk about school are all ways to deal with the stress.
Even with these strategies, however, I still find myself worrying, as I know many others do as well, that I’m not doing enough or being productive enough. While the stress and pressure we put on ourselves are problems, the bigger issue is where it comes from. Ever since our childhoods, society has told us that we are most valuable when we are productive. And with that productivity comes an expectation of stress—because how is it possible to be productive without stress? Isn’t stress the motivator for productivity? But stress is actually unnecessary for getting things done—I have seen others work vigorously without stress and have done so myself. Thus it begs the question of how it has become so common to see people suffocating from pressure. We need to examine both the internal ways we put stress on ourselves and the society that demands it of us in the first place. Ultimately, these stress olympics are a problem within the system, not ourselves. But while I hope to examine these societal issues with others and begin to deconstruct the values that lead to the stress olympics, I also recognize how important it is to dismantle the structures within ourselves that lead us to the edge of burnout.
No one can survive in a constant state of productivity, as it is simply impossible to sustain that level of engagement with any activity. Forgive yourself for not being busy; even better, treat rest and recuperation as a necessary part of your daily routine, rather than an indulgence. Or else, eventually, you will burn out.