How I learned to prize mental health over productivity


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Lauren Suchanek

Last semester, I fell victim to our society’s plague of overworking and the ever-looming pressure of productivity.

The other day, I had a war flashback when one of my old yellow post-it notes fell out of my old planner. This post-it note had my entire day planned out from when I woke up to when I went to sleep; including specific times on when I would shower, when I would leave for class, when I would arrive to class, and the most pathetic of them all: the 15 minutes between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. that I allotted for “relaxation time.”

My cure for when I was stressed out was not to go and hang out with friends or lay on the couch and watch an episode of my favorite show, but to open Amazon and scroll through different models of planners.

Through all of this time I spent working and “being productive,” I thought that it would bring me success and that this success would make me a happier person. I was not aware of how much it was deteriorating my mental health and how dull of a person it made me. Before society’s pressure to be productive crept into my mind, I was a care-free and fun person who loved trying new things and did not care if something messed up my perfectly color-coded and designed schedule. But after the productivity plague hit, I forgot what it meant to go with the flow and quickly lost that part of myself altogether.

It is no secret that to get work done, you must work. But the pressure from our society that work is the most important thing in one’s life and that for someone to be successful, they must work tirelessly and incessantly is where the complications arise. In the Harvard Health article cleverly titled “Only the overworked die young”, it tells of the findings of the researches of University College of London who found that, “…those who worked more than 55 hours per week had a 13 percent greater risk of a heart attack, and were 33 percent more likely to suffer a stroke, compared with those who worked 35-40 hours per week.”

Among my peers, it seems to be a constant competition of who is busier. It’s as if someone’s value has anything to do with how much time they spend working themselves into the ground. The ironic part is that studies have proven there is a point of diminishing return when it comes to work. According to a study reported on by Entrepreneur, “If you work 50 hours or more in a week, your productivity (the total amount of tasks you get done) begins to decline relative to the number of hours you work.” One can sit and work for hours on end, but there comes a point where the only thing that is getting done is the deterioration of one’s sanity and mental health.

At the end of last semester, I began noticing how much overworking myself was taking a toll on my relationships with others, my mental health, and my overall well-being, and I decided to make a change. I did not want to come back to college for my sophomore year in the same monstrous way that I left my freshman year. I gave myself grace that it is OK to not be working every minute of every day and realized that relaxation is not just a luxury, but a necessity for mental functioning. Along with just giving myself permission, I started reading books about meditation and implementing practices into my life.

Today—although I am not completely cured from my compulsion to be working all of the time—I have gotten much of myself that I had lost back and am significantly less manic than I was a few months ago. I do not plan my days on a post-it note by the minute anymore, and I am here to say that my grades have not fallen and my world has not caved in around me.

As musician Morgan Harper Nichols writes, “You are worth the quiet moment. You are worth the deeper breath. You are worth the time it takes to slow down, be still, and rest.”