Glorifying exhaustion: The student crisis

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Above: Photo via iStockphoto.com

By contributor Jessy-Lee Craig

It’s that time of year again; between the midterms, papers, and looming final exams, people start to brag about how they are on their sixth extra-large triple-shot coffee, or that they pulled an all-nighter to get their paper in on time. Although I congratulate my fellow students’ dedication and hard work, I am also concerned. We’ve all been there, leaving our work until the last minute and spending endless evenings in the fluorescent light of the library. As students, we lead tremendously busy lives, balancing school, work, chores, family, pets, and—hopefully—a social life, but are we really doing ourselves any favours by over-caffeinating, skimping on sleep, and disregarding our mental well-being? Why are we glorifying our exhaustion?

There is a trend in academics right now to prioritize short-term goals, like grades, over our long-term health. I am not suggesting that school and grades are irrelevant; I am simply trying to illustrate that mental and physical health are equally important. Besides, being in good health affects academic performance.

Our classes, grades, and extracurricular activities are important to us. Whether our goal is to graduate school, become an informed citizen, to build an impressive resume, or all of the above, we take our academic endeavours seriously. So seriously, in fact, that we are willing to lose sleep over it. We know that sleep is essential. It affects not only our physical health but our mental health and cognitive functioning as well.

Not getting an adequate amount of sleep can affect our ability to learn, problem-solve, and pay attention. So, in the long run, blowing off sleep to write a paper or study for an exam will likely actually hurt your grades instead of improve them.

When we as students spend all of our time writing, going to classes, studying, and working on papers or projects, there is a tendency to let the “small” things, like self-care and mental health, slide. While I am all for academic achievement and dedication, I think we are doing a disservice to ourselves. I am here to remind you to take time for yourself. Self-care is important because it helps to counter stress. It also helps to prevent feelings of burnout, and you can keep doing the things you love without feeling over-worked. Best of all, self-care can help you refocus. So stepping away from that paper and eating a proper meal or chatting with a friend will actually help you with your writing.

Here are some tips:

•Get enough sleep.

•Take time for the things you like to do.

•Spend time in nature.

•Get some exercise—even a little bit helps.

•Make time for friends and family; they will help keep you centered.

•Keep a to-do list and prioritize one thing at a time.

•Write in a journal; writing down your feelings can do wonders.

•Read a book out of interest or enjoyment, rather than requirement.

A large problem students face is that we often feel guilty if we take time away from our to-do list for something that seems trivial, like going for a walk in the woods. However, it is so necessary for us as human beings to meet our mental and physiological needs by doing something as simple as spending time in a green-space. It is important to try and schedule time for ourselves amongst all our other responsibilities.

Time management is an important part of self-care that deserves special mention when talking about students. It is crucial for students to learn how to balance due dates, meetings, readings, and deadlines within our schedules. A big part of this is learning to prioritize what needs to be done now, and what can wait until later. We need to be diligent about not double-booking, taking on too much, and learning to say no when we’ve hit our max. If this is something you are struggling with, VIU offers success coaching and time management workshops. Check out the Success Coach segment in the Student Services section at <viu.ca>.

I think the biggest problem is not that we participate in this behaviour, but we continually congratulate others for it. We are glorifying exhaustion to the point that it is considered normal. My theory is that we are encouraging others’ exhaustion as a way to feel better about our own. We are collectively putting exhaustion and over-extension on a pedestal in order to cope with the overwhelming amount of things we are taking on.

Self-care and time management are useful on an individual level; however, we also need to consider collective solutions. It would be easy for me to shout, “let’s all just stop glorifying over-exhaustion.” Instead I’m simply suggesting that we need to acknowledge it—that we all take care of ourselves as human beings with needs. More importantly, let’s start to help take care of each other. Encourage your friends to practice self-care, and congratulate them when they say “no” to taking on unnecessary work. Invite them to go on a short walk.

Back in my first year here at VIU, someone shared with me their most effective study tip, and I’d like to share it with you.

The night before your exam, stop studying, relax, get your mind off of it, and go to bed. I’m not saying that by practicing time management and self-care you will never have to stay up all night working on a paper again, because that’s just not true. While no one is perfect, it is important that we begin to start looking out for ourselves and for each other.

So put down that espresso, take a nap, and take care of yourself.