As students, we’re always told to work hard and play hard. Yet, speaking from personal experience, there is a fine line between working hard and overworking, and it is important for us to acknowledge the limitations to our capabilities. As a rather ambitious individual, I struggled a lot with taking breaks because I felt like it was such a waste of time. For the first quarter of the school year, I felt as if I was on an “academic high” — I was succeeding in every assessment and working nonstop every day, surviving on barely sufficient sleep. But as the year progressed, I found myself feeling more burnt out than ever. I would be able to work productively for a week or two but after that I always found myself in a “slump”. In essence, being in a slump is when you’ve lost motivation and feel somewhat useless. It is important to note that this is not a mental illness or condition, rather, a way to describe a feeling. For me, a slump usually lasts for about 3-7 days and I always feel very ashamed and guilty of myself during that period of time.
To give a particular example would be this one period of time between Christmas and CNY break, where we only had school for about 4 weeks. After the holidays, I was ready to get back straight into the school mode and had committed to participating in several initiatives. Usually, I am not one to say no to people, hence I often over burden myself with projects after projects. Anywho, this time of the school year was particularly busy because all the teachers would assign assessments after assessments, hoping to get everything done as soon as possible before report cards were due. In the first two weeks back at school, I remember fondly waking up early at 5AM every morning to do all my school work, and working on all my CCAs after school. This system had worked very well for me up until the third week. That was when I started feeling very sleep deprived and could not be bothered to get up early anymore. Everyday I would go to school and afterwards head home and lounge around my apartment, doing the bare minimum for homework assignments, then going to bed crying, feeling penitent. I would always push myself to work but I’d feel like giving up just moments after.
At the time, I watched all my friends and classmates work so hard on all their assignments while I was barely getting by and that only added to my guilt. I felt like I was the only one going through this and felt more lonely as ever. I did not dare talk to my friends because I felt that I had a reputation to maintain and so I would just go to bed hoping that the next day would be better. About a week later, my daily routine was back to normal. I felt that I was fully well rested and was able to proceed with all my work both academics and CCAs. That was really the first time that I had been in a slump.
I never really felt that I was entirely “out” of the slump until about a month later after the CNY break. It took me about a week to recover physically as I was able to get up early and follow my schedule just after a week. However even then, I felt so mentally strained that I would find it hard to focus while working as I would always be stressed about another task. Of course this “being in a slump” incident happened again afterwards but that experience was particularly memorable because I felt that I struggled the most.
Looking back, I feel that the most effective way to get out of the slump is simply to take a step back and recharge, not necessarily meaning sleep but also going out with friends and doing whatever it takes to take your mind off of all the stressors. Slumps are signs that we are running low on internal fuel. Rather than resting and relaxing, many of us do the exact opposite—we push ourselves to work. This was exactly what I did, and it backfired. Instead of increasing my productivity, my productivity went down further, to the point where it came to a halt and took a toil on my mental and physical health. To be honest, it may seem like there are so many urgent things that you can’t take breaks, but really— nothing serious is going to happen if you just take a break for a day or two. Missing one or two assignments won’t matter in the long run. There may be lots to do, but if you aren’t in your prime condition, you won’t be able to get much done anyway.
I’d encourage readers to consider the following:
- Have you been so busy that you haven’t taken time out to relax and unwind?
- Have you been neglecting your needs for the sake of others?
- When was the last time you took time off for yourself?
And remind yourself that it is okay to not be at 100% all the time.