Charlie Ward, Writing Consultant
At times, it may feel as though education is all consuming. As a student, your life — and, ultimately, your identity — becomes entrenched by course readings and research projects. For me, balancing the mental load of helping writers with their projects — while also trying to do my own writing projects — becomes a bit too much around the middle of the semester. I love helping people, but I often forget to help myself. The pressure I feel to be the perfect consultant, the perfect student, the perfect child, and the perfect partner all become too much to handle; the pressures of academia make me sick with anxiety. I know it’s okay to cry — and hopefully that’s a lesson you’re learning, too — but you need other coping methods. Sometimes, you need to take a break.
It may also feel as though you don’t have much time for anything beyond academics; the idea of taking time for yourself may cause you guilt and anxiety. The relentless “culture of productivity,” or, the social climate that reinforces overworking yourself, may make it difficult for you to feel like you can take a break. But you can — and I’m here to tell you that.
Here are some tips that may help you:
Force yourself to take a break.
Realistically, this is step one: humans need time to breathe, time to create, and time to be comforted. It’s easier said than done, but don’t let “productivity culture” make you feel like you can’t take a few minutes to yourself. Don’t let peers dissuade you, either. Painting a still life, going for a walk, listening to your favorite album, or even just looking outside are great ways to readjust mentally.
I know I’m kind of preaching to the choir here, but this time to destress is crucial. If you’re a planner, plan your break; if you’re spontaneous, stop your work early one evening. Time to relax will prevent an inevitable breakdown, whether it be the result of an overloaded schedule or other excruciating factors. This break time has helped me through hard times — I promise everything will sort itself out.
Keep work and home separate.
I’m not referring to physical space here, but rather the workload between work and home. I usually do the majority of my work for the upcoming week during my weekends; however, I only allow myself to work from 9 am – 5 pm. By giving myself the evening to relax, I’m able to get up the next morning more motivated to work. Try to find an hour where you stop working: a huge weight will be lifted off your shoulders.
Try not to talk too much about work when not at work. I know this is seemingly impossible — I definitely fall into ruts where I talk about nothing but my work — but you need to find something else to talk about. You can talk about the weather, you can talk about the new Netflix special you just watched, or you can commiserate on how much you hate the month of January — it just needs to be something not related to work. It will help give your brain a break from the constant stresses of academia.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There comes a time where we need a bit more than a break: things can become too much, things can become too loud, and things can become impossible to do on your own. When this happens, it’s more than okay to ask for help.
The cultural stigma against mental health can make it difficult to ask for help; these situations are exacerbated by feelings of guilt and anxiety, whether they be the result of academia or other factors. Conversations around the importance of breaks and community are extremely important in promoting self-advocacy.
I understand the hesitation towards taking a break, especially for students and people who just need to get stuff done. On the other hand, I also understand what it looks like when you don’t take a break: I’ve had semesters where I stopped showing up to classes semesters where I’ve dropped classes semesters where I failed classes. I was too scared to ask for help, and I had dug myself into a rut — productivity had clouded my ability to think clearly, and ultimately, I felt the only way I could cope with the stress was to stop being me for a while. This sounds dark, but I just want to emphasize the importance of making time for yourself.
In graduate school, I made a pact with myself to always take time if I need it. I made a pact that I would always take an hour or two to do whatever I want, even when my workload seems endless. I’m not here to tell you that I’ve been entirely without anxiety, but I’ve been able to stay above water — and that’s okay!
This semester, remember to take a break. It doesn’t matter whether it’s five minutes or five hours: take time to understand who you are and what makes you happy. Try to bottle up that happiness — whether it be memories of your pets or how the sun makes you feel — and look back on it in moments of stress. You can always change your assignments or your research, but don’t let them change you.