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Are you lazy or are you tired?

Are you lazy or are you tired? This question came up during one of my therapy sessions 2 years ago, and it has made me more aware of my inner monologues.

I didn’t know, or maybe I was in denial, that I started showing symptoms of severe burnout. I didn’t think I deserved to be burned out. I didn’t feel like I was working hard or accomplished enough to be tired. The thing is THESE ARE THE EXACT REASONS WHY I’ve become burned out.

I started therapy after a traumatic experience in my first lab. Aside from the manipulation and psychological abuse from that lab, I’ve realized that I also have internalized bad working habits and unhealthy mindsets from all of my academic life. The pressure to do more and to appear to be more productive pushed so many students into depression and burnout.

In 2018, a study from UT Health San Antonio published in the journal Nature Biotechnology showed that graduate students are 6 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to the general population. This was not the first and only story on the topic of grad students’ mental health. It’s becoming more evident that there’s a strong prevalence of mental health issues in grad students. I don’t think I have to explain to grad students why we have such poor mental health. Because grad students are expected to be productive 24/7, we can be seen by our mentors and other faculty members as “lazy” if we go on a vacation or don’t work on the weekends. Every time I’m not in the lab, I feel lazy and unproductive, regardless of whether or not I actually have something to do. Even when I was away, I could never stop thinking about work or checking my emails. I could never ignore the thoughts of what my mentor and other people at school would think of me if I wasn’t in the lab. It took a lot of work (and I still have a long way to go), but I started to learn how to properly rest my body and my mind. And it all started with that question: “Are you lazy or are you tired?”

It’s really bewildering to me to see so many people in medicine and science don’t take stress seriously when stress produces a hormone that can have physiological effects on our bodies. It makes us fatigued and increases the risks of other health problems. This makes me wonder why we turn off the equipment in the lab to extend their life but wear out our irreplaceable bodies.

After that conversation, every time I catch myself thinking that I’m lazy for wanting to rest or sleep more, I ask myself these questions: Did I get the number of hours of quality sleep that my body needs? Did I eat a good meal or did I mindlessly chomp down fast food while trying to get more work done? Did I exercise? Have I had quality time with friends and family recently? How long has it been since I made time for my hobbies?

So, grad students, are you really lazy, or are you just tired?

We thank Thu Duong for submitting her story! Find her on Instagram (@the. science.promoter)

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