Stressing about no stress

Giving myself the room to breathe while unlearning my constant need to work


Tvisha Gupta

The moment the emptiness began to feel like too much, I crammed my schedule full of work.

Tvisha Gupta


For the last three and a half years, it’s been a constant go-go-go — an endless stream of deadlines and work and projects and internships and stress-about-not-getting-to-a-point-of-satisfaction-and-notdoingeverythingunderthesun. I can’t remember taking a moment to breathe over the course of my high school experience. Every stressful cram session or jam-packed exam season, I just wished that I had one day to do absolutely nothing, one day to just take a real break. 

Then, a few weeks ago, I finally got one.

On Jan. 4, after submitting my final college application, I was finally able to take a big, gigantic sigh of relief. I let everything out in that breath — and every ounce of gripping anxiety and overwhelming stress I’d felt for the past three years seemed to dissipate. I whipped out my phone, Door–Dashed the largest-sized hot vanilla latte and a slice of red velvet cake from Paris Baguette and settled into my bed with my computer, ready to binge-watch every season of “Too Hot to Handle” in peace.

I did that for one day. I did that for another day.

Then, I started to feel a bit strange.

I hadn’t felt so free, so aimless, so finished in a while. And it was weird. I knew that I definitely wanted to spend my time in bed, chilling out beyond the maximum extent possible, but I simultaneously found myself itching to return to some sort of work. This feeling only amplified as I started my last semester of high school. I was having the most fun I’d ever had — my friends and I spent most of our free time together, I was hanging out with my parents every single night and I was getting a ton more time to read for pleasure. But I wanted to work. I needed to work because I found myself craving the sweet, good ol’ spine-shivering stress every moment I wasn’t working. And it irked me.

So, after a week of school and feeling the furious waves of confusion wash over me, I decided to do something about it. I signed up for literally every single activity I could. I joined a kickboxing class. I signed up to run a half-marathon so I could fill my time training for it. I applied to internships. I joined a creative writing class. I packed my schedule so full of stuff that I, once again, could barely breathe.

And I loved it. The adrenaline began to kick in, and I felt refreshed. The adrenaline of having “stuff” pumped through me every time I made my unreasonably long, aspirational daily to-do list. And as I worked through it, I felt fulfilled.

But after merely two weeks, something else began to settle in. I’d forgotten about the sour, stomach-twisting kind of stress that came with deadlines and work and projects and internships stress-about-not-getting-to-a-point-of-satisfaction-and-notdoingeverythingunderthesun. I’d forgotten that packing my schedule so incredibly full of things like I did before meant perceiving the things I truly loved to do as tasks to be tackled and pinned to the ground, rather than opportunities to partake in something enjoyable. Additionally, over the course of high school, I’d grown to believe that if I wasn’t doing something every minute of every day, that if I had even a second of free time, I was being unproductive. That wasn’t healthy, because I’d deprived myself of breaks, and trained myself to believe that deprivation meant I was being productive.

So, I dropped the kickboxing class and the creative writing class and chose to focus my time on the half-marathon and my internship. I gave myself room to breathe and realized that even if I feel empty and stressed about not having stress, that is alright. There is importance in taking the time to do absolutely nothing. Additionally, by creating spaces of extra time in my schedule, I’ve been able to truly get the most out of all the activities I have signed up for and can enjoy them for their value rather than their existence. 

As I enter the second month of my second semester of senior year, I feel far more at peace with my workload, my free time and the things I’m passionate about. I don’t need a packed schedule. I need space to breathe. And now that I finally have it, I plan on taking deeper and deeper breaths.