As a student, I know that stress is no stranger to us. Be it studies, juggling relationships between friends, family and maybe significant others… All of which are happening while we are still growing and trying to find our identity. Many changes, coupled with such stresses, can cause a lot of instability, which can be detrimental to our mental health.
Having been through the education system for 15 years, I’ve had my fair share of struggling with mental health and studies. As a student, I prided myself on being hardworking and also bought into the hustle mindset(that you should be productive in whatever spare time you have). In my final year of Junior College (pre-tertiary education), I struggled a lot with the impending stress of A levels and leadership expectations. It was only after a long period of burnout, did I then realise the importance of mental health. I told myself I would never want to put myself through this again.
I’m sure that many of you know the benefits of a good mental health like improved productivity, a healthier body etc… there are plenty of articles on the Internet that can list down all the positives.
I’m sure you’ve heard of work-life balance – how about school-life balance? It’s essentially balancing the time you spend between your work/school and time spent on yourself, relationships and other things happening in your life.
There are many ways to practice school-life balance. One way is to dedicate the weekends fully to yourself and rest. However, I know that as a student, often you are piled with homework or project meetings that will spill into your weekends. What I will suggest is to set aside a cut-off time for your work. For example, you can choose 8.30pm as your “clock-off” time – you must do all your work before 8.30pm. Beyond 8.30pm, this is personal time for yourself and you can only continue your school work on the following day before your clock-off time again. This not only helps you to set a fixed amount of personal time for yourself, but teaches you to be more disciplined and prioritise important tasks.
Life is not all about studying – take time for hobbies, spend time with friends, do some self-care, work on a skill… The wake up call for me was when I was talking to peers around my age, they would share about their own personal hobbies, skills or projects they pursued while schooling. It was eye-opening to meet peers volunteer for animal shelters, represent Singapore in national competitions, or even start their own small business. It made me have an identity crisis as I realised I dedicated most of my time to studying. Who was I outside of my studies?
Balance applies not only to how you spend your time, but also your meals and sleep hours, which includes eating healthily and following a regular meal and sleep schedule. However, balance doesn’t always mean sacrifice, it would also include allowing treats for yourself. So this is your sign to treat yourself to your favourite snack!
2. Know your abilities
It’s okay not to accomplish all the things you set out to do. Sometimes we may overestimate our abilities. I used to write out long to-do lists, that would include do 2 essays, finish 2 exam papers and more just for one day! After which I would feel overwhelmed and feel guilty at my inability to finish.
If you’re someone who likes to write to-do lists, I would recommend writing one or two tasks first. Once you’ve completed them, continue adding new tasks and repeat. Be honest with yourself, are you able to manage these tasks? I know the overachiever in you may say otherwise, but it is important to learn to pace yourself and take things one at a time.
This applies to extracurriculars as well. It may be tempting to take on that extracurricular club or competition for your resume, but before you do that, ask yourself – do you have the time and ability to commit to it?
3. Take a break.
Breaks are essential for learning. A study by National Institutes of Health(NIH) found that when we rest, our brains may revisit memories of new information we learned.
Leonardo G. Cohen, M.D., senior investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) states
“Our results support the idea that wakeful rest plays just as important a role as practice in learning a new skill. It appears to be the period when our brains compress and consolidate memories of what we just practiced.”
Breaks can include anything from a short 20 minute nap, a walk or a shower. Here’s a list of other activities you can do to take a break. Additionally, don’t feel guilty for taking longer breaks. You know your body best!
4. Reach out
It’s okay to reach out. I used to fear reaching out to others for fear of over sharing things. However, I realise most friends and family are fine with it. Some may even be glad that you trust them enough to be vulnerable in front of them. The people you reach out to may have gone through the same experiences and can give advice. Being a student can be difficult, but you aren’t the only one struggling. It’s good to find a community or someone whom you can vent to and also support on their own journey.
You can also try seeking external help, such as therapy and counselling. Personally, I have never gone through it, but I have friends who do and it has helped them. If you have the resources seeking licensed therapists would be a good place to start.
If you don’t have the resources, fret not. Schools often provide free counselling. If the school ones are not effective, there are several organisations that provide free or affordable counselling.
Free resources according to ASEAN countries
If the thought of sharing your inner thoughts to someone scares you, try journalling. It doesn’t have to be written elaborately. Simply write your thoughts, feelings, or ideas for five minutes or fewer each day. Your journal can be a place to go through your thoughts, especially something you might not feel comfortable discussing in a non-judgmental setting.
5. Have a routine
Having a routine is important to keep you grounded and to push you in life to continue doing things. By pushing yourself, I don’t mean doing work beyond your capacity, but to make sure you continue with everyday activities even if you don’t feel like it. Activities include your body getting its necessities like regular meals and water, basic hygiene and sleep.
During states of poor mental health such as burnout or depression, basic activities can be very difficult to push yourself to do. In the absence of these activities, it can affect the brain’s functions, which will further affect your mental health.
From personal experience with burning out, a routine helped me to achieve all these in auto-pilot mode. In my brain, I felt exhausted and did not feel like doing these activities. However, I still followed the routine by blocking out those thoughts and muscle memory.
If it helps, you can plan out a rough weekly schedule: blocking out time for necessities like meal times and sleep, followed by school, study time, breaks and personal time.
A student’s journey will not be easy. Take time to prioritise and take care of yourself. Here’s a quick summary of the advice I wish I knew as a student.
- Have a good school-life balance
- Know your abilities
- Take a break!
- Reach out to others
- Have a routine
All the best, the journey is long and sometimes hard, but you can do it!