I sometimes feel like I only have two modes as a student: working and actively taking a break from working. Fast-moving deadlines are a pervasive part of being a student, and during busy periods I can’t help but feel that there is always something I could be working on. While I certainly schedule in time to relax, be social and breathe, sometimes I feel like I’m scrambling to get everything done.
And then of course, there are the things you add to your schedule by choice. Even now, I spend a few evenings each week after my summer job writing for music blogs. During the school year, I also wrote and edited for a newspaper and magazine. I do these things because I love them and I learn a lot, but there’s something mentally very different from writing an enjoyable article on deadline and doing something enjoyable for its own sake.
Being overwhelmed is something of an epidemic. How many times have you answered with “busy” when someone asks you how you are? I recently read a book by Brigid Schulte called Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play when No One Has the Time that explores this very phenomenon. While it covers many interesting topics like the gender divide in leisure and how policy affects work/life balance, the main thing that resonated with me was the discussion of an “ideal worker culture”.
This is a cultural ideal that pushes us to work longer and harder, though I admit for me this feels self-imposed. I want to be able to do a lot of things, and do them well. Ambition and drive keep me going through long nights of exam preparation and push me to continue to take on writing opportunities that I know I will learn from, but there is a bit of a dark side to it. Sometimes exhaustion is my primary emotion, and it can be hard to take time to completely relax during a flurry of deadlines and tests, especially if I don’t have social plans in place.
Fortunately, the book was also full of ways to reduce “The Overwhelm” that could easily be adopted by students:
- How you perceive your free time is more important for mental health and well-being than how much of it you have. Stop mentally running through your to-do list when you finish working for the day. Start focusing on appreciating the moment.
- You need to feel like you have a choice in how you spend your free time. Don’t spend time on what you think you should be doing, do what you want to do.
- Work in pulses – our brains aren’t wired to do more than six hours of hard mental work each day. Taking a mid-afternoon walk is not only relaxing, it will make your studying even more effective!
I’m going to try and adopt this advice, especially as I move back into school-dominated life in September. U of T, what do you do to feel less overwhelmed? Post a comment or tweet me at @lifeatuoft!