Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and viewpoints of current Arts students. Through their posts, you’ll experience the creativity and passion of our students as they present glimpses into student life. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.
With Reading Week just behind us, now seems like a good time to focus on the importance of students’ responsibilities to themselves and their well-being. An important, yet often overlooked, part of academic success is ensuring that one’s physical, mental and emotional health is strong enough to perform well in an academic environment.
While one of the primary intentions of Reading Week is to allow students an opportunity to de-stress, this goal can be lost when instructors pile on the work and studying responsibilities. In general, the competitive, demanding and sometimes migraine-inducing atmosphere of post-secondary education does not always make it easy to shift the focus to one’s health and comfort.
The importance of self-care is not something that is taught in classrooms, but knowing when to draw a line and find time for yourself is a serious lesson that is often learned out of desperation — such as in my own case and those of many students I meet on a daily basis.
I often see students whose major problems could have been easily avoided by checking in on themselves and acknowledging their limits. Some students are overly ambitious and feel they must prove themselves by taking on more than any person could be rationally expected to handle, while others underestimate the compassion of their instructors and don’t even bother asking for due date extensions or other such accommodations.
Like most facets of university life, getting into the habit of setting work aside — and knowing when and how to do this — will become all the more important as the duties and responsibilities in students’ lives start to multiply. I have come to see the importance of this while working in my role at the Ombuds Office, as helping students with particularly emotional cases can have a significant impact on me, even after I leave the office for the day.
Stress is contagious, and while clients may feel unburdened after discussing their problems with me, this emotional burden can be transferred to my own back if I am not careful. Every now and then, a student will visit my office and describe such a dire predicament that I can hardly believe they have made it this far. Even more disturbing is the way they often explain their situations with no emotion whatsoever, as if they have given up or been defeated by the circumstances of their life. When this happens, after the meeting I tend to agonize over how I responded and whether I have done enough to help the student.
The importance of self-care is not something that is taught in classrooms, but knowing when to draw a line is a serious lesson that is often learned out of desperation.
While it never really feels like enough, I know that at a certain point I have to focus on what I have done well, then stop thinking about it and direct my attention elsewhere. Since my first day of training at the Ombuds Office, I have constantly been told by my coworkers and my supervisor to take an appropriate amount of time during the day or in the evening to forget about my work and spend time on something I enjoy. I can attest to the benefits of such habits and now encourage others — students and staff alike — to do the same whenever they get the chance.
My advice to students: don’t let the culture of hard work and ambitiousness that surrounds you make you feel guilty for taking breaks. It can create dangerous habits, and, as you will one day find, it is often not consistent with the expectations that will be placed on you in the career world. Take some well-deserved time for yourself and the benefits will be reflected in the quality of your work. I hope that Reading Week has served its purpose for you and provided the energy to make that final push to the end of the term.