We all know the feeling. It appears like a thunder cloud on a spring day — uninvited but expected and always unpleasant. After years of experiencing it, I wonder, is it possible to take a break without feeling guilty about it?
Guilt can hold entire vacations captive. Although appearing in different forms, moments and activities, the premise goes something like this.
You finally take the time to do something for yourself. A little book reading, watching a movie or spending one evening with the family. But even before you start, guilt is there to remind you that your chosen activity is a waste of time, and that you could perhaps be doing something more worthwhile.
If you manage to ward off the initial guilt somehow — kudos to your battle skills — it appears again and again throughout the activity, ensuring your to-do lists are always on your mind.
Like a sticky piece of taffe, guilt doesn’t leave after you’ve finished your moment of relaxation. Rather, it sticks with you, for hours, days and sometimes weeks. It’s always there to remind you that no matter how much fun you had, you should have used that time for something else.
Sometimes, we give into the guilt and end up spending most of the break doing some form of work. However, we are human and our bodies and minds require breaks. Without it, we take hours to do simple tasks. What was an initial attempt to be productive during the break fails too.
As a student, this feeling has been present on almost all of the breaks I’ve taken over the past few years. Like many fellow students, experiencing this guilt before, during and after break leaves me drained of energy. Rather than start afresh after the break, I’m tired and don’t have much productivity to show for it.
So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, how does one break up with guilt successfully?
I’ve been thinking about this break up for a while, strategizing how to do it just right.
First, I want us to acknowledge that we are human beings and therefore need breaks. Immanuel Kant once said, “I think, therefore I am.” My twenty-first century motto is “I’m a human being, therefore I need breaks.” I encourage you to adopt it too.
Although not quite as philosophically insightful as Kant’s original quote, it reminds me that breaks, small and big, are important to our physical and mental health and overall wellness.
Second, let’s challenge how we think about productivity. In today’s hustle culture — which I think has somehow intensified even more during the pandemic — we think of productivity as solely related to work, school and side projects.
Although all those aspects are very important to our lives, so is our health, spending time with the ones we love and indulging in hobbies. While these activities may not result in immediate wealth, or provide a breakthrough in your career path, they are just as important. So let’s think of productivity as a whole, not only as a slice of the life pie.
Lastly, some of the best things come out of the times we let our minds wander and let ourselves just be. When we soak in the emptiness of the day, our next move in life might dawn upon us. Or when we let our hands create, we may create the next painting, book, article or dance that moves hearts around the world. When we spend time with those we love, we are making memories that will last long after.
Or, we may just have a day off. And that is perfectly fine too.
Having a guilt-free break is possible. It doesn’t require massive to-do lists or scheduling the week down to every hour, rather it requires fundamentally changing our mindset.
This February break will be a radical departure from the rest because I’m going to let myself have a break — and you should too.
Just remember, you and I have nothing to feel guilty for.
This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a reply, please email email@example.com. Vaidehee Lanke is a third-year undergraduate student studying bioinformatics and is the Opinions Editor at The Sheaf Publishing Society.
Vaidehee Lanke | Opinions Editor
Graphic: Anh Phan | Design Editor