During my spring break, I travelled to Las Marias, Puerto Rico with my Alternative Spring Break group of students to volunteer on a farm with Plenitud Eco-Initiatives, an organization that works on education in environmentally sustainable practices such as eco-friendly methods of construction. On this trip, we adhered to a regular schedule of waking up at 5:50 am (or earlier) each morning for yoga and breakfast in order to start work early in the morning. Additionally, because of the various activities we had planned each night, we usually would go to bed between 11 pm and midnight, or even later.
Since spring break at University of Virginia immediately follows the "hell week" of midterms and exams, the idea of getting 5-6 hours of sleep every night after a week of all-nighters and endless cups of coffee made me cringe. However, despite my initial apprehension, my lack of sleep, and the hard labor we did on the farm throughout the day, the week in Puerto Rico was one of the most relaxing and restful weeks I've had all year. Why? The answer lies in an important part of Puerto Rican and Spanish culture, one we here in the states often neglect: taking a daily siesta, a short, mid-afternoon nap or resting time.
Each day at Plenitud, we took a one hour siesta: a time to rest, relax, nap, to think, or to just breathe for once. Some days I’d nap during my siesta; other times I’d write in my travel journal, or just admire the beauty of the nature surrounding me. And even though I was sleeping less and doing more physical labor than I would have if I had just gone home during spring break, I’m confident that I returned back to school more relaxed than if I had stayed at home sleeping and eating and watching TV for 7 days.
In Spanish, "plenitud" means wholeness, completeness; a well-rounded balance. What I took from working with Plenitud in Puerto Rico over the last week is that in order to have a complete, balanced life, it is incredibly important to set aside one hour just for "me" time: a siesta to relax, to breathe.
Studies have shown that millennials are the most stressed out generation. American workers get less vacation time than workers in other nations. I’ll even admit that one day, after getting 2 hours of sleep the night before my midterm, I noticed that I had a small white hair. I’m 19. Don’t get me wrong: I love to have fun. But often I feel that in my effort to work hard and play hard, I am unable to sit down and relax, and often find myself chugging multiple cups of coffee to get through the day.
Many millennials like myself live by that motto of "work hard, play hard." However, in order to achieve the perfect balance of work and play without being completely drained, exhausted, and dependent on caffeine, I believe that we should understand the importance of the siesta: the importance of time away from the rest of the world to just sit back and rest for an hour. Therefore, I challenge all of you this week, no matter how busy or stressed you are, to just stop doing your work for just one hour. Don’t go on Facebook, don’t constantly tweet and text from your phone. Just relax. Read a book. Maybe even just nap. Chances are that you’ll be able work harder and play harder if you do.