A few weeks ago, I shared my story of realizing how burnt out I really was. Since then, I’ve made a few changes in my life. I’d be lying if I said I was 100% better 100% of the time; I still have some great days and other not-so-great moments. However, I can truthfully say that I have tried to be more intentional in my thoughts and actions over the past several weeks, and I do feel a difference overall.
In my last post, I admitted that I didn’t really know how to take a break. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken a day off. After much reflection, I’ve realized that this inability to wind down is not something I want to wear as a badge of honor. I have friends who are cardiac surgeons, Medieval Literature PhD students, and budding entrepreneurs- they all are in rigorous professions having to balance numerous responsibilities. If they can consistently take days off, then I can surely manage the same. My life is not going to fall apart if I unplug for a bit. I’ve made Sundays my day off, where I try to spend most of the day doing things I enjoy without feeling guilty about the pile of work on my desk. In doing so, I’ve realized that not only do I feel good on Sundays, but the days when I am working are more productive, too. Before, I used to measure my productivity by the number of hours my laptop screen was on, disregarding that during much of that time, I wasn’t actually getting work done. Now, I give myself permission to take days off and take breaks throughout the day. That way, when my screen is on, I’m doing a better job of being productive during that timeframe. Sometimes when my phone is freaking out, all I need to do is turn it off for a bit and then back on. I guess the same goes for me.
I also enrolled in the Koru Mindfulness course offered by the Law School, in which we learned various types of meditation. Two of the meditations particularly stuck out to me: the walking meditation, and the lovingkindness meditation. The walking meditation forces me to deeply concentrate on a seemingly mechanical activity by noticing how my body and mind are interacting in the seemingly simple act of walking. I’ve found that walking meditations are helpful for me in the mornings, when I start feeling drowsy if I do an eyes-closed passive meditation. Instead, the walking meditations help me start my days on a grounded footing (no pun intended). In addition, the lovingkindness meditation uses short phrases that first help me be kind to myself and then extend that compassion to the world around me. It’s no secret that law school can become cutthroat, so this meditation helps me remember that someone else’s gain is not inherently my loss. For the Koru class, we also read Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness. One of my favorite quotes of the book is:
“One way to cultivate greater sympathetic joy is to connect with happiness in our own life. When we believe we have nothing, it’s almost impossible to take pleasure in the happiness of others. Like any kind of generosity of the spirit, joy for others depends on a feeling of inner abundance that’s distinct from how much one has materially or objectively in this world.”
Overall, the Koru class has helped me to cultivate a more compassionate outlook both towards myself and the people I care about.
I want to reiterate that just because I’ve made some lifestyle changes doesn’t mean I’m never stressed anymore. In reality, I still have just as much on my plate, and I still have the responsibility of managing it all; I do still become overwhelmed from time to time. The difference is, a few weeks ago, I would have pushed myself to keep going despite the obvious signs that I needed to slow down. Now, I know that if my body’s telling me something is wrong, then I know I need to pause and listen. Burnout is incredibly scary, but it doesn’t have to last. With the proper coping mechanisms and tools of mindfulness, I’m on my way to create a more balanced, sustainable life that will preserve my well-being both in law school and beyond.
Roma Gujarathi is a second-year student at BC Law. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image “Mindfulness Brain” by max pixel, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.