You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup

Two girls walking down the street in Chicago in the summer with backpacks Photo : Alanna Bagladi

When you attend college orientation, administrators, student leaders, and tour guides paint a vivid picture of your next four years. ‘The best time of your life,’ they’ll say. They’ll list hundreds of organizations you can join, lifelong friendships you’ll forge, and the endless lessons you’ll learn in high-level courses corresponding to your interests.

Briefly, they’ll mention the necessity of maintaining balance and taking care of your well-being.

Don’t join too many organizations.

Get 8 hours of sleep each night.

Keep your caffeine intake in check.  

No overnighters.

Be social, but not too social.

They’ll quickly stress that stress is simultaneously your enemy and friend. It can motivate you to accomplish tasks, but stress can also lead to anxiety when not properly monitored.

I’m now a few months into my last year of school, and I already feel the metaphorical scale tilted toward unhealthiness. Extracurriculars, going out with friends and getting little sleep equate to lack of focus and time to complete assignments to my satisfaction, which leads to guilt over failure to achieve the perfect, coveted A.

It doesn’t help that I attend an extremely competitive university. For the past few years I’ve been at my school, I’ve frequently questioned why I’m here. There are so many other students who do so much more—students who are leaders of multiple organizations, have part-time jobs or internships and still maintain adequate or high GPAs.

This pressure to keep pushing oneself can lead to unhealthy habits. The other day, for example, my friend heard a student say she had 8 cups of coffee that morning. A full pot of caffeine in one morning.

College is a microcosm and reflection of the fast-paced, unforgiving society in which we live. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, the saying goes.

Our society does not value self-care. Many have never even heard the term or concept. School comes first, work comes first, relationships come first, and you come second. I am beginning to realize, though, that taking care of myself needs to be a priority.

Self-care looks different for everyone. For me, it means listening to what my mind and body are communicating. If my eyes begin closing during class, if I’m so tired I can’t form coherent thoughts, if I’m feeling emotionally and physically drained, I now know I have to take a step back and take time for myself.

A night of Netflix, face masks, and tea. Meditation, yoga, or a phone call with my mom also centers me when everything seems out of control when there are too many points on my to-do list I can’t seem to cross off.

In a world that demands all of our emotional and mental energy, it’s easy to get burned out. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we expect ourselves to feel happy and whole? How can we put energy into other aspects and relationships in our lives if we feel so frequently drained?

The other day, I was venting to my friend about my stress level feeling out of control.

She looked at me straight in the eyes and said, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
Let’s make sure our cups are full.

Sarah Muzzillo : Writer. Feminist. Student. Lover of Harry Potter, Gilmore Girls, and iced coffee.