The inside of my cheeks are torn and textured from biting my words and chewing on my thoughts. I obsessively digest everything that comes to my mind till my jaw is sore and my original thoughts have been torn into so many pieces that I can no longer distinguish reality from these muddled remains.
The school year heightens these anxious tendencies. To combat my anxiety, I created extensive to-do lists that packed my days to the limit: Wake up at 6:30. Start homework by 7:30. Class at 9. Workout at 10. Back to homework. And so on. I scheduled my days down to the very minute, ensuring that no time was lost. My hyper-productive expectations ironically lead me to be less productive and more anxious than ever. I was left drained, unmotivated, and sleep deprived.
I constantly alternated between two states: being hyper-productive and being completely idle. One day, I would complete everything and more and the next, I would lay in bed with no motivation to do anything at all. I convinced myself that these were “rest days”. In reality, I spent my “rest days” feeling anxious and guilty. I felt like I was wasting time and allowing myself to fall behind.
I raised myself to be a perfectionist; it provided me with a sense of control. Adults would applaud my behavior, praising me for being so smart and responsible. This mentality was further encouraged by the social media I consumed that presented unrealistic expectations of everyday life.
After my first year in college, I came to the realization that my hyper-productive expectations were self-destructive habits disguised as perfectionism. I realized that I was not actually falling behind, I was just behind of being ahead. I didn’t allow myself any breathing room. The days that I actually allowed myself “rest” were wasted because it was impossible to truly get rest while simultaneously blaming myself for not being productive.
Being paralyzed with anxiety while staring at an unrealistic to-do list is not productive. Spending hours stressing over how much you have to do is not productive. Being productive includes doing nothing for several hours on end. Being productive includes skipping workouts when you feel that you’re overexerted. Being productive includes taking time out of a busy day to sit on the beach or at a park. I am slowly learning that allowing myself room to breathe helps me achieve more in the end.