Junior year has made me acutely aware of the feelings “oh God why is there so much stuff to do all of the time” and “can everything just stop for three seconds” more times than I’d care to count.
But I guess that’s something everyone feels. And after thinking about it a little more, it dawned on me that of course there’s always something to do.
Without anything to work towards, our lives would feel meaningless. It doesn’t feel good not doing anything for extended periods of time, especially because it feels like everyone else is doing something productive. Why do you think students complain about not having school during summer or winter break, when it seems like school is all we complain about when it’s in session?
What’s irritating about this all, though, is that you can never really do everything. In a way, this never-ending quest of doing things is like self-improvement, in that you can never really reach perfection. When you think you’ve finally done everything you needed to do, life pulls the curtains back a teensy bit to reveal that there are, in fact, even more things for you to do.
I also don’t think that this phenomenon is a result of the digital age or the college frenzy (for us high schoolers) that we’re in; this seems to me like a universal concept that has probably stood the test of time. People living in the 1700s had the same struggles of trying to live a fulfilling life, just like the rest of us. The only real difference is that today we can complain about it on Instagram.
A big thing that I think this quarantine has really shown us (students) is what happens when there’s suddenly a lack, or a slowing, of tasks to complete. Aside from the social aspect, a lot of students are missing school because suddenly browsing Tiktok (cursed app, btw) or playing video games for seven hours straight is becoming numbing and unsatisfactory. School offers a central direction and structure by assigning things for us to do, and without it we are suffering.
I believe that this is something deeply ingrained in human nature and amplified by society’s expectations of us. As such, it’s going to stay with us for the rest of our lives, since problems don’t go away with time—they just change.
So what can we do about it?
It’s important to first understand that it really doesn’t matter who you are or what your to-do list looks like, because we’re all going to find ways to be busy all the same. Sure, a high schooler’s struggles may not be as high stakes as a CEO’s, but they’re still there. While we may not have to worry about quarterly growth or running a business, we’ve still got tests to study for and house chores to do, which are important, as far as we’re concerned.
I don’t think the answer lies in deciding not to stop until everything’s done with (it will never end) or in stress aversion (if you’re not doing one thing, you’re doing something else). Rather, we just need to be better with stress management—a shocker of an idea, I’m sure.
Just try to take things one at a time and remember that you’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed with all the stuff you have to do. I would give you the cliché advice of “give yourself breaks” and “relax!”, but that was never helpful to me–instead, I’ll tell you something slightly less cliché and slightly more proactive: have a short memory about your struggles, do what you need to do, and live a little. The work isn’t going anywhere.