Overworked, burnt-out student feels guilty during moments of relaxation

Swasti Singhai, Final Focus Editor

With the number of times I’ve opened my phone, hastily typed in the password, and mindlessly logged in to the StudentVue app, I could probably do it in my sleep. Honestly, I probably have. I genuinely cannot fathom my life without constant anxiety about teachers putting grades in or without the never-ending race of GPA calculations and speculative class rank comparisons. 

And unfortunately, with practically everyone I know taking five APs with a near-perfect transcript, my sentiments seem to be widely echoed. Even on top of school, every student seems to be engaging in an endless list of extracurriculars, from after-school clubs to jobs, to academic competitions, to volunteering, to sports. 

Some students certainly may take joy in every portion of their packed schedule, but the fact is, many don’t. Many are stressed, burnt out, and driven by one main purpose—getting into college. 

Like it was for many others, my first semester of junior year was exceedingly overwhelming. I spent the beginning of the year just trying to adjust to the in-person environment, social interactions draining so much of my energy that I would end up completely crashing once I got home. But with four-hour daily dance practices, essays to write, Mock Trial competitions to excel in, and physics homework to complete, fitting in a nap was too much to ask for. 

Instead, I ended up turning to occasional mental breakdowns as a way to vent the stress that I kept bottled up. So this semester, I decided to cut back a little bit, hoping to regain some time for ventures outside of Westview, whether that be for a new hobby or an interesting class at community college. 

I would like to say that I’ve been thriving with the newfound time on my hands after dropping an AP class, but honestly, I’m faced with recurring guilt about whether I’m doing enough, about whether I made the right decision to reduce my academic workload. 

After overworking myself, I feel almost as though nothing will ever be enough. Especially while watching classmates succeed in founding non-profits and publishing research, I find it significantly easier to justify  diminishing my accomplishments in comparison to theirs. 

So even while taking an hour or two off, I can’t help but think that my time should be spent in a more productive manner. 

We’ve all heard about how reducing our workload is important, how balance is essential for mental health. But for countless students with an overfilled schedule, the balance is tipped so far to instability, stress and chaos, that even a semblance of normality seems abnormal. 

Just take sleep schedules. When a student announces they slept at around 12 AM, their peers are incredulous. Only 12, as if seven  hours is unheard of, as if sleeping late is an award, an indicator for how hard you’re working. 

Even winter break, with its pretense of enjoyment, can quickly turn into a rat-race for summer internship applications and make-up work.  Despite the fact that  I spent the majority of my break crafting a 13-page study guide for my physics final, my efforts seemed vain in contrast to the students who somehow were able to do not only that, but so much more. 

Every moment easily became an opportunity to fret over lost time. I’ve found that taking breaks is stressful—not because of the stress itself, but inherently because of the lack there-of. There was no winning. My mental health was damned if I subscribed to an unattainable standard of academic perfection, but my application was damned if I didn’t.

I hate to admit it, but changing my mindset certainly won’t be quick. One day though, I hope that we’re all content with whatever we’re doing—even taking a break. I hope that we can all detach our motivations and passions from our harsh, overbearing self-criticisms. And while I will continue to strive for academic validation, this semester I’m going to add another task to the agenda—time off.