Author and researcher Brené Brown says “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.” It’s midterms season, and I find myself having to read this quote over and over each day as a reminder to put my health first. Although Oxy isn’t as academically over-the-top as some schools, there is no question that overworking and not sleeping are typical here. During this busy time of year, that is even more true. This culture is unacceptable and we need to fight it.
My first year at Oxy, I was eager to prove myself. On the second day of classes, my peers were already discussing how they only got five hours of sleep the night before and had to do homework for the rest of the day. At that moment, I felt guilty. I thought to myself, “I got eight hours of sleep last night; what is wrong with me? I must be slacking.” So I started doing every assignment so thoroughly it took me three hours for a simple 15-page reading. The norm was 4–5 hours of sleep, and 6 hours of sleep was a lazy night. I rarely socialized and worked while eating.
Now, this could seem like just a “me” problem. But no. These behaviors continued for a whole semester because all of my peers praised me for it. They would say, “I’m so impressed by your work ethic,” and, “Oh, well I didn’t get any sleep last night.” People told me that my obsessive studying was what all the other good students were doing. So I didn’t stop.
I didn’t stop until the lack of self-care caught up with me. It was finals season, and I started having severe stomach issues. When I got home for winter break, it didn’t get better. I went to the doctor and discovered that these issues were probably never going to go away and could only moderately improve through proper sleep, attentive nutrition and relaxation techniques. Studying all the time quite literally permanently hurt me. And even if this doesn’t happen to others, it is scientifically proven that not sleeping enough negatively affects memory, which reverses the utility of studying in the first place. Moreover, just like how my stomach will never be completely better, you can never make up for that lack of sleep.
So, don’t pull an all-nighter to finish that midterm. If need be, write a worse paper instead. That grade is not worth forever harming your brain and body.
This is all easier said than done. For me, it is a constant fight for balance when I’m surrounded by certain people who value overworking. Therefore, I have developed a couple of strategies for coping that can hopefully help all of you as you go through midterms.
First, find a mantra to repeat to yourself when you feel guilty about taking time for yourself. It could be the quote at the beginning of this article, “I deserve a break,” “my body needs to rest” or something else along those same lines.
Second, schedule in rest and play just like you schedule homework, classes and clubs. If it is in your planner or Google calendar, you will not go day after day making excuses for why you are still working nonstop.
Third and finally, spend time with others committed to rest and play. Other people can be a positive influence too!
If you are someone who takes pride in your never-ceasing work ethic, I hope that this article can give you some inspiration to take care of yourself. No matter what any Oxy professor will tell you, your mental and physical health matters more than any midterm.
The author for this piece is Adelia Nunn, a member of a chapter of the organization at Occidental College. Active Minds is a national organization that aims to reduce the stigma surrounding illness and promote good mental health