Today, we walk a dangerous line.

We are constantly pulled in two distinctly different directions: to spend time investing in others and putting them first, or to take valuable time for rest and self-care. The Internet screams  “treat yo’self,” yet often we feel as if we thrive most after devoting time to others. It seems an impossible middle ground to find, yet for young adults, this balance is crucial for our own health and that of those alongside us.

When I was 19, I had my first panic attack. I remember it clearly — it was a February evening, I had just been initiated into my sorority, and I was terrified. I felt as though my heart was folding over in two due to exhaustion and the sheer need to be everywhere all the time. It seemed any missed opportunity to love someone, to experience a new thing or to help someone in need was a blow to my chest. I felt the weight immensely. It eventually took someone close to me to stop me in my tracks, put her hands on my shoulders and explain that what I needed was rest.

She was right. It had been months since I spent time alone.

But what value did solitude have for a 19-year-old college student who desperately wanted a fleshed-out, abundant life? A friend going through the same problem described this feeling like having a backpack on her shoulders that represented everywhere she wanted to be, everyone she wanted to impact and everything she wanted to live out. As she walked and walked, not stopping for refuge, the backpack became full of stones. What once seemed like an opportunity for a full life became burdensome and harmful. What is needed in this situation is simply setting down that backpack, and slowly, quietly unpacking those stones.

Author Jill Bolte Taylor said, “To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amid the normal chaos of a hectic life.” We are so often caught in sensory-overload, trapped by our social obligations and looking onward with blinders fastened to the next task, the next hurdle to be jumped or race to be won. We forego time actually treating ourselves and taking good, beneficial care until that backpack is pounds too heavy for our frail shoulders to bear. It was too late before I realized the value of intimate reflection and self-care.

Now, the purpose of this time should be thought about before it is inevitably overwrought with naps and counter-productive alarm snoozes. Create something. Dig deep. Spend time unplugged, away from expectation, learning your ins and outs before you head back out there. For me, it means saying no to the occasional social obligation, spending time outside, unplugged and alone. I often call my mom, paint or write how I’m feeling, and almost always come out refreshed and recharged on the other side.

In an article for Psychology Today, Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. said, “Solitude can enhance the quality of your relationships with others. By spending time with yourself and gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you desire in life, you’re more likely to make better choices about who you want to be around. You also may come to appreciate your relationships more after you’ve spent some time alone.” If anything, we are called to love deeper and pursue harder each and every day. But, we must not neglect sporadic alone time.

This was a hard balance to find for me. It took sprinting long and hard without looking ahead that my exhaustion finally caught up to me — I was splattered flat against a wall. And though I do get weighted down occasionally by exhaustion or a minor panic attack, the unbound freedom I feel in rest always triumphs. While we must press on and fight the good fight, it is okay to put the backpack down, take a look inside and choose yourself over the weight every once in a while.

Photo Credit: Andi Risk