Wednesday 9 January 2019

Taking time for yourself - even when you don’t feel like it

Charlotte shares her thoughts on why studying less may improve your grades - and your mental health.

Have you ever had that feeling that you have no time to do the things you enjoy because of the looming pressure of studying? Maybe you’d love to watch a movie, hang out with friends, or just lie in a hot bath, but you can’t make space for it in your schedule. When you are struggling with your mental health, this feeling of taking time for yourself can feel even less deserved. For some, makes us feel guilty for doing anything other than university work, and can seriously impact our wellbeing and our productivity.

When I started Brunel University as a fresh-faced 18 year old, I told myself that I didn’t have time for any clubs or societies. I was going to focus on my education and get a kick-ass degree! Things didn’t exactly work out that way; because I had no hobbies, and nothing else to dedicate my time to, I spent way too long studying in the library, or late into the night. One of the biggest regrets of my university experience is that I didn’t take the time to make friends through clubs and societies. I didn’t find that social outlet that I needed to help with the isolation and loneliness that living away from home can bring.

This guilt over ‘me-time’ got worse when I studied for a Master’s degree at Bristol UWE. Being a distance-learning course, I had even more of an opportunity to isolate myself due to the lack of a campus community, and the content of the course being completely online. I started to worry if I began working later than 9am. I wouldn’t give myself a lunch break longer than half an hour, and I completely neglected the need to exercise or just chill out.

Of course, this didn’t make me any better at studying. In fact, I spent most of my time worrying about studying and generally being inefficient, because studying was all I thought about. This resulted in me developing an anxiety disorder and unhealthy work habits that have stayed with me to this day, over a year after finishing my studies. According to the American Psychological Association, ‘excessive or inappropriate guilt’ is a key symptom of clinical depression, so it’s not surprising that a lot of students with mental health issues feel guilty for taking time off from studying.

One of my fellow course mates had a part-time job, a netball coaching job, and various other hobbies and activities that she indulged in, always managing to spend time on her studies as well. That girl eventually really DID get a kick-ass degree!

As counter intuitive as it seems, taking time away from studying and spending a healthy amount of time on self-care is THE BIGGEST tool for success and wellbeing that there is! Everyone needs to recharge their batteries regularly. So, have a think about what you like to do to relax and unwind. Is it reading a book? Going for a run? Something that has really helped me is having a list of things that I know I enjoy readily available to me to look at when I feel I need a break. Another helpful tip is to make yourself clear, realistic, small goals every day. Something like: ‘today I will read 2 journal articles’. And then when you complete those tasks, don’t be tempted to give yourself more. You’ve done what you set out to do!

Too much studying can have a really big impact on our health and wellbeing, and can give us a distorted view of how much our grades mean in the grand scheme of things. Be kind to yourself and prioritise that me-time as much as you need.

Hi I’m Charlotte! I work at the London School of Economics looking at refining and improving the student experience in my department. I graduated with a BSc in Psychology in 2012, and an MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology in 2017; these university experiences alerted me to the debilitating effect anxiety and depression can have on young people, as it was something I struggled with. Coming across the Student Minds blog made me wish I’d found a resource like this when I was studying, so I want to give back to the community by sharing my experience.

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