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  • Emma Louise Alvarez

How to Slow Down in a World that Never Stops

© Illustration by INJECTION - Mia Hatch

Breathe, and Take a Moment Just for You.

Submitted by Emma (21), Netherlands

I am floating weightlessly in the ocean. The world is muted and the sun is bright. Waves are gently lapping my face, the smell of the sea bringing me a sense of peace, and finally, my mind is empty of conscious thought.

I am a chronic overthinker. There are four different desktops, each with two or three different windows, and then between five and twelve open tabs all inside my mind. I have a mental to-do-list for the next hour, day and week. I am an overachiever. I am a perfectionist. And it is exhausting to keep up in a world that never stops.

I almost jokingly think to myself that stress is a semi-permanent state of being, and that I’ve accepted it. I work well under stress - I am focused and efficient - but it is exhausting. It is entirely self-inflicted, where the multiple deadlines and responsibilities drive my motivation and where I love that I am in control of my time and priorities and I feel capable and proud of myself. But it is not sustainable.

An Existential Awareness

It can be overwhelming to acknowledge ephemerality. Our time is finite. I sometimes worry about all the things I want to do; things I still need to learn or understand about the world; spending time with those I love and doing the things I love. It can be overwhelming.

A cheesy Instagram quote helped me realize that ‘constantly worrying about the next part of your life prevents you from realizing you’re right in the middle of what you used to look forward to.’ That encapsulates it perfectly. You can also choose any of the following: YOLO, seize the day, be present, stay grounded etc. My yogi mom would tell me to practice mindfulness and yoga, where my grandmother would say to take time to smell the roses. The meaning stays the same: yes, our mortality can be overwhelming, but it is precisely because time is finite that it is important to acknowledge and appreciate day-to-day life.

However, societal and peer pressure play a role in why younger generations are increasingly overworked and stressed: (professional) competition. Internships are largely unpaid, entry-level jobs require anywhere between 1-5 years of previous experience, individuals are creating their own start-ups to compete / be able to do what they are passionate about, and this level of competition only makes job requirements more demanding. There is also ‘post-pandemic stress’ about financial stability, balancing remote and on-site work, feeling isolated or not motivated and just upset with the world that we missed out on two years of school, (work) experience, or even happiness. While these might be considered generalizations, they apply to me.

After I submitted my dissertation in May, and received an underwhelming email about my grades a couple months later, I then had a bachelor’s degree in drama, of which half of it was online. I remember feeling proud when a LinkedIn post praised this year’s graduating class for their resilience, but what does that even mean? Can I put “resilient” on my CV? I am one of thousands of ‘resilient’ students who studied and graduated in the pandemic, where I still feel I need to ‘do more’ in order to be ‘better.’

Consuming News Consciously

Another thing I really struggle with is the extent to which I should be politically active, or at least knowledgeable about what is happening in the world. I run the Instagram account for Ignite Their Freedom, an organization dedicated to raising awareness for human trafficking and other humanitarian issues, and I study a part-time master’s in mediation and conflict resolution. I feel as if I have a responsibility to constantly renew my perspective of privilege and to appreciate what I have, but damn, the world really is a horrible place for so many people.

I am even conflicted with whether to allow myself time off or a ‘break’ from world news, because that in itself is also privilege: to be able to turn off the news, to turn of notifications for my news app, to scroll past the article on Instagram, and not be preoccupied or personally affected with what’s happening.

All of this accumulates: anxieties about how to consume news consciously, how to spend my time efficiently, how to sustain myself through different deadlines and responsibilities, how to balance doing the things I love with responsibility and privilege, until the computer crashes because there are simply too many tabs open.

And sometimes, it’s ok to let the computer crash; to let it restart and slowly start opening up the windows and tabs one by one, but sometimes it is important to deliberately dismantle all that is happening inside your head so you can breathe. So you can take a moment and just be.

The Ocean as a Metaphor

I am floating weightlessly in the ocean. The world is muted and the sun is bright. Waves are gently lapping my face, the smell of the sea bringing me a sense of peace, and finally, my mind is empty of conscious thought.

I am a chronic overthinker and I find it nearly impossible to ground myself and not think or worry about all the things I think and worry about. But it is possible.

I have accepted that I am doing the best I can. I function well under stress, and if I can continue to learn how to take breaks and how to take it easy, then I will continue working under stress because I know that is how I work best. I will continue to learn how to consume news consciously and sustainably. I will continue to learn how to renew my perspective of privilege and how to contribute to positive change. I will continue to learn.

It’s a Saturday morning, and while the weekends are to work on my masters, I do not sit down and have a coffee. I do not open my computer with its many tabs and windows, and look at my calendar and assess my priorities. I do not do any of these things. I walk to the ocean and walk past where the waves break and take a deep breath and float. I stare at the sky. I feel the heat of the sun start to burn my face. I feel the saltiness of the water on my skin, and the occasional sting of a jellyfish, and I float.

Go find your ocean. And accept that you are doing the best you can.


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