Self-Care: the key to success in University
I completed 8 years at university, including 2 years living on campus, and can clearly recall the stress and pressure that went with university life. It was and still is very common for students to stay up very late to finish work or cram for exams – it is almost expected, without being verbally mentioned. Self-care is not considered on a student’s agenda – nor the lecturer’s or professors for that matter – as the focus to achieve top marks by all means is often in disregard of the body achieving such grades.
One time at university I worked in the office all night, after I had been working all day, to finish a report due the next day. I worked until 2am then went to sleep on the office floor, to be woken by the cleaner at 4am. It was something I laughed about with friends, and it was even seen as being tough and committed.
Looking back at this period of my life I realised that:
The average university life has a negative impact on one’s body
The majority of students finish their degree stressed, exhausted and needing a break, a long holiday away, a gap year and often dreading thought of working full time
There’s no true vitality, strength, aliveness, alertness and eagerness to join the workforce at the completion of a degree because of the drag it has been to get through university – let alone the last few years of high school where students are also exhausted, and put under pressure to achieve.
Personally it was a very rude shock to feel how much harder it was working after the life at university. You have to arrive on time, do a full day and not leave until the end of the day… and you have to do this 5 days a week – unlike university where many people sleep in if they feel like it or leave when they are bored or tired, never having a schedule that is five full days. These days you can even watch your lecture online whilst you stay in bed or not watch it at all, but log on as if you have. This is so far removed from how work life is.
Supporting students in uni life
How can we support university students to live in a way that leaves them energised, vital, fit, strong, healthy and ready for work? How can universities support students to already have nurturing and supportive rhythms in place rather than the self-destructive pattern of late nights, lots of coffee and high caffeine over-sugared ‘energy’ drinks, and at weekends parties with plenty of alcohol and drugs to look forward to, all to try and relax to escape the mundane week?
When I was lecturing at university a student sent me an email after having trouble submitting an assignment online: “I don’t trust technology so just to be safe I’m emailing you my assignment because my computer might give up after the all-nighter to finish this”. This was sent at about 2am. I had a flashback to myself on the office floor.
My response was something along the lines of: “Thank you for being conscientious about this and forwarding me another copy. I’m also aware that technology and computers aren’t the only things that don’t function well or that can give up after an all-nighter. Working throughout the night like this has a great impact on the body. I don’t encourage any student to ever work like this, with such pressure, as it has long-term consequences on your health, and for me your health is more important than one assignment. I would have preferred that you asked for an extension and did it in a way where you can take care of and look after yourself first, then maybe discuss with someone how you can improve your time management to not find yourself in such a situation again.”
Maybe if more lecturers can begin to speak like this, things will start to change.
But unfortunately at present, many of the university lecturers are the students of 10, 20 or 30 years ago who were living the same destructive lifestyles then and are still living them now, relying on plenty of caffeine and sugar to get their now exhausted, stressed or run-down bodies through their day.
It’s still common for work to be run right up until the deadline, requiring teams of people to pull many ‘late-nighters’ or even ‘all-nighters’ to get a report or project completed.
Offering another way
Working on a large group project with many academics early in my career I was challenged for not staying up late to complete something due in only a few days. The other academics were working until 11pm and midnight because we were all doing this work outside of our normal full-time jobs.
I shared with the team that I prefer to stop work by 7 or 8pm, to have time to let go of the day and prepare for a deeply restful and nurturing sleep by 9pm. I then wake up extra early to work on the project in the morning before my normal work day, as I’m more alert at this time of day than at 10pm at night.
Post this conversation I observed small changes in my colleagues, such as no activity on the documents or emails past 9 or 10pm. Though I say ‘small changes’, this level of self-care is monumental in supporting health and vitality long term, which then supports clarity and purpose.
If I had not spoken up about my caring rhythm, my colleagues would have not experienced another way.
Towards the end of the project when one academic said they were going to have to pull an all-nighter to get their section done, another academic responded to the effect that the university was not paying for our health and that we should take care of ourselves first. I smiled joyfully when I heard this.
I have been inspired by Universal Medicine to live in such a self-caring way with my body, and to feel the impact of this. So step-by-step, maybe university life, work life and the stress, pressure and exhaustion that currently go hand in hand with this, may also change. This can start with just one person, who by choosing differently may inspire many.