Chapter 2: Know your boundaries, Know your limits￼
In a perfect world, every day would be productive and fulfilling… Personally, some of my days are the exact opposite and sometimes I would beat myself up over it. I would experience this ongoing cycle of wanting to do so much but not having the bandwidth to engage in seemingly “basic” tasks. Social media and even college institutions attempt to utter words like mental health and self-care but there is a disconnect in what rest, self-care and catering to mental health looks like. For a long time, I struggled with knowing how to distinguish my “laziness” from complete and utter exhaustion. Grind culture does a great job at reminding you that you should've woken up at 5am, gone to the gym, started writing a novel, attended lectures, completed all your work before 8pm, meal prepped for the next 40 days and drank gallons of lemon water. You're young right? I think I’ve heard someone say “sleep when you’re dead” ... If you don't make time for rest, that might be your grim reality far earlier than expected.
In school, especially very competitive schools, it is easy to become wrapped up hustle/grind culture. Before I continue, if you are not familiar with the term hustle culture it is defined as the state of overworking to the point where it becomes a lifestyle. You want to be seen as intelligent, competent, and extremely productive. This feeling is undeniably great and striving towards that is understandable, but it is unrealistic to force your body to produce constantly. Being a Black female medical student, it seems like I am not allowed to have an off day or even well-planned days off. I often feel like I am failing myself or starting habits that will not lead me to the life I am working so hard to attain. I admit to placing a lot of pressure on myself to not only perform well but dedicate most of my free time to academics. This sounds good on paper but in real life it only creates more anxiety, stress, and overall unhappiness.
Defining your days by how productive you are is overwhelming because what goes into your everyday does not merely consist of your job or course work. You are a person that probably needs to cook, clean, take care of personal tasks, and have a moment to yourself. If we are constantly defining our days by how much work we complete, many times we end up feeling unsatisfied rather than grateful for the things we were able to do in that day. What you could not get to today can be done tomorrow… stop placing so much pressure on yourself.
At the start of the new year, I attempted to intentionally develop a healthy relationship with my course load and personal life. During my last exam block, I decided to place a little less emphasis on studying 20 out of the 24 hours a day and focused on trying to be a more balanced individual. At first it was hard, I felt guilty about going to the gym, making my meals each day, resting when I felt tired and taking needed breaks. When I say breaks, I mean full days of not touching or looking at any work. Being comfortable with separating yourself from your work when necessary is extremely important. You are not a robot. The work that must get done can only get done if you are well. Overworking yourself will only result in an unwell individual and that is the last thing we need.
As I started making time for the things that made me feel whole and rested, I noticed that the time I had for my schoolwork did not suffer in the way I thought it would. Everything that I needed to get done was completed in an appropriate time. The key to this was organizing myself. If I decided to take a day off, I would replan the next few days and fit in all the task I had for that day into other days of the week. Overall, I realized that I felt better about myself and the work that I had to do when it was not the focal point of my days. I used to make it seem like it was a life-or-death situation when I had uncompleted tasks on my list at the end of the day. That is unhealthy! Simply move those tasks to a day that works better and remind yourself that you did your best that day. When you do not allot days for rest, you start to resent the work that you do, and it can cause you to question your ability to perform. With all of this being said, I learned to prioritize myself without allowing my coursework to pile up… My overall physical health, mental health and academics improved. When you find it difficult to put your needs first, repeat this to yourself or even write it down: “I can do anything, just not everything” ...