The semester is hurtling towards an end, some of you may be graduating soon, but for others it will feel like in the blink of an eye we’ll be back on the university train. University is a time like no other, and I’m not just talking about seeing your friends every day and partying like crazy.
I’m talking about the fact that while you’re at uni, you also have to juggle a number of responsibilities. Sure, you’ve gotta go to your lectures and tutorials, but you also probably have to work part-time to pay your rent, buff up your resume with internships and work experience, involve yourself with extracurricular activities, and spend time with your friends and family. If you’re lucky, you’ll squeeze in time to do the groceries, clean and go to the gym once in while.
This alone is enough to make a mere human’s head explode, but I’m not talking about being an overachiever. This is what’s expected of young people in 2017. The pressure to always be working hard (or ‘hustling’ as Instagram says) is a result of society romanticizing the idea of working yourself to the point of breakdown.
Recently, I was talking to friends who were struggling to find more hours in the day. “There’s always more to be done,” says RMIT student Issy Deason.
“Even when I should be relaxing and enjoying my hobbies and seeing friends on my one day off a week, I know there’s always more I could be doing to get ahead in my studies or career,” she claims. And when students do have the chance to kick their feet up and chuck on Netflix, it’s the feeling of anxiety and guilt which drives makes them back to the books.
Daphne Konas, a psychologist who practices at the RMIT Counselling Service, highlights the damaging consequences of this culture on our mental health.
“There are a variety of reasons why we may feel ‘guilty’ about taking a mental health day… I believe that this is partly due to fearing stigma, societal expectations, pressure from employers, and the desire to be valued by our peers and colleagues,” she says.
So what are the symptoms of over-working ourselves, and what should we be doing about it? According to Konas, some of the warning signs include not being able to sleep properly, having difficulty concentrating or completing tasks, and coming down with the flu more than usual. Some days, if we’re feeling stressed, it can be tempting to drop all of our responsibilities and bury our heads in the sand (or doona covers). But avoiding the issues and pushing through every task in a haze of anxiety will end up plaguing you with more guilt and, ultimately, more stress.
Konas says small steps will help to manage those overwhelming feelings. Schedule in time for hobbies, and surround yourself with people who make you feel inspired and happy. Be mindful of regular exercise, get plenty of sleep (try to aim for 7-8 hours per night), and practice mindfulness and deep breathing. These are just a few easy tips to work into your lifestyle, no matter how busy you are.
Working hard is crucial to achieving good grades and finding a meaningful career. Goals give us a purpose in life and something to work towards. But, we need to make sure we stay balanced.
“When we are heavily focused on our goals, we can lose sight of our values, and this is often when exhaustion and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can occur,” Konas says.
So when that glorious summer break does come around, make sure you take some time out for yourself to reflect on what you’ve achieved this year. Talk to a friend, and don’t ever feel guilty for binge watching your favourite Netflix show, because you deserve it.
The RMIT counsellors are available 5 days a week to discuss the issues brought up in this article and more. Appointments can be made online or via telephone, on 9925 5000.