I am someone who consistently over-commits myself. At the moment of writing this, I am working two on-campus jobs, I hold a position on the management team for a national student-led nonprofit fighting mass atrocities and genocide internationally, I am representing my peers as a class senator for my school’s Student Government Association, I am paying for and running this blog (however lax it is), I am captaining and organizing two intramural sports teams, and I am not only a full-time student but one who is double majoring in Political Science and Communications and minoring in Philosophy. And somehow, I do all that, maintain my grades, and still have some semblance of a social life.
Lately, it’s been a lot. Free time is a luxury, and I’ve been incredibly overwhelmed and stressed. But I had a moment recently that I think everyone has at some point, and it’s something that everyone deserves to be reminded of occasionally.
There’s no reason for it to be too much. Clearly you should stay busy and engage with things that matter to you, but when it gets to a point where it becomes emotionally and mentally unhealthy, it’s time to stop. And that goes for everything from jobs, to sports, to people.
Cutting out commitments is not the easiest way to improve your situation. Most of the time, removing yourself from activities or situations feels at best rude and at worst like failure. But it is 100 percent something that will help negotiate stress and mental health, and is undeniably better for you than most negative coping mechanisms (smoking, drinking, overeating).
That stress is bad is not news to anyone. It can cause physical issues headaches, ulcers, or high blood pressure, but it can also impact your effectiveness. Taking on too much means we don’t do the best job possible on the work we attempt; switching between tasks often makes them more time-consuming and less coherent. So how do you know where and how to cut back? Step back. List out everything you’re doing and prioritize the things that are essential and that mean the most to you. And then, cut out everything towards the bottom of the list. If you need to renegotiate certain commitments so they’re more manageable, do that. Whatever you need, however much work you need to jettison, do it. Nothing is more important than your health.
Now, this all seems relatively simple and easy when activity-centered. The problem arises when it comes time to evaluate the people in your life and their contributions. We are so often told that burning bridges is an irreversible negative that most people are afraid to end relationships or be honest with themselves and each other. But being able to cut toxic people off and remove people from your life is crucial for a few reasons.
The first is that certain connections only lead to your hurt. Psychologists have found that we often help those who hurt us the most, working off the notion that if we love them just enough they will one day realize all the ways they hurt themselves and those around them. It’s important to do your best to help others in any way you can, but when the connection consistently causes your own personal pain and suffering, it’s time to break it.
The second is that often, toxic relationships cause you to compromise your core beliefs and values. Friends who are draining, partners who are emotionally abusive, those who spew hateful political rhetoric – you don’t need them. If you value political passion, don’t surround yourself with those who don’t care. If you value open-minded dialogue, cut out those who hold myopic views. Studies have shown that standing up for ourselves leads to greater personal fulfillment, so there’s no reason not to lead your days in accordance with your core values and turn your back to the drama. Be unapologetically you.
The third and final reason burning bridges is sometimes the healthiest option is that toxic relations can deny you purpose and happiness. When you start to make a healthy change, those who hurt you the most often attempt to knock you down a peg. True happiness comes from a mixture of personal relationships and living in the pursuit of our purpose, and anything that gets in the way of that doesn’t deserve your time. Studies done at the University of Quebec actually show that pursuing your passion adds hours of joy to your week and improves the quality of your life.
So burn those bridges that are unhealthy! American poet Dorothy Parker said it best when she said “My land is bare of chattering folk; the clouds are low along the ridges, and sweet’s the air with curly smoke from all my burning bridges.” Former president John F. Kennedy’s quote (originally from Dante’s Inferno), “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality,” is also a good one. But my favorite comes from activist and rapper Tupac Shakur: “If you can’t find somethin’ to live for, you best find somethin’ to die for.”
Cut back. Stop stressing over things you don’t actually need in your life. Remove yourself from the situations and relationships that hurt you. Burn those bridges.Sanctuary