/ 2 years ago /

 Article by Hannah Cowton

Knowing when to take a break for your mental health

Mental Health Awareness Week is coming to a close and I’m having a reflection on some of the changes and improvements I could have made at university, especially in the final stages, which many students will currently be experiencing. I’m mainly talking about the importance of taking a break from studying. 

When exams and essays are piling up, we have a tendency to neglect ourselves. Deadlines are looming, and suddenly everything else in our lives seem to take a back seat. Even the basic necessities we need to function are neglected, which can ultimately lead to stress and a negative impact on our mental state.

mental health doodle

If we don’t take care of our well-being it can pull down our grades. So based on my own time as a student, here are the key signs to look out for to recognise when it’s time to take five and put down your study materials for the benefit of your mental health.

When things aren’t making sense

Take it from me, if you’re typing on a keyboard and the words you’re looking at aren’t even registering anymore, it’s time to close down that document. So many times I would hear that locking yourself in the library from sunrise until sunset was the way to go, but in truth this can be completely unproductive.

If you aren’t understanding what you’re reading/writing, then it won’t benefit your final grade. Instead, ensure that you reserve your study time for when your mind is sharp and ready to digest information. Sometimes working in short bursts can be a good way to do this. Set aside ‘power hours’ and when it’s not working, just take a break.  

When eating and sleeping becomes neglected

mental health let's eat

It’s so easy to do. Pulling all-nighters and living off caffeinated drinks and sugary snacks is common student behaviour. Having worked in the campus convenience store, I can attest that during exams these were our most popular products. But what you need to know is how much better your brain will function just by having a full night of rest and a full stomach.

Studies by Debut have shown that getting a good night’s sleep can reduce anxiety and improve your concentration levels. So statistically, by taking care of your basic needs, you’re more likely to ace these final stages. Take time to rest, recuperate and stay healthy during these stressful few weeks.   

When your health is being affected

This should be a no-brainer, but sometimes the stubborn ones can try to push through illness when the workload is high. And I know this because I did it myself. I studied for my final projects, worked part-time and ran a society whilst being sick. I thought painkillers would get me through, but instead I ended up with a nasty bout of pneumonia.

It could be argued that if I’d spoken to my university earlier and just taken a break and had time to recover, I could have avoided weeks of ill health. But I didn’t, because in my mind grades were the priority. But this is never the case. Your health is always number one. So if you’re genuinely sick, tell your school, and if needed apply for mitigating circumstances or an extension.

When you’re isolating yourself

mental health you're not alone

This point is high on the mental health checklist. Studying for hours on end can be a very lonely experience. Lots of students become reclusive, spending their days in the silent section of the library, as it’s the only way that they can get any productive work done in a day. As a result, human interaction becomes low.

Ensure that at some point in the day, you have someone to physically talk to (a five minute chat with your mum on the phone doesn’t count), whether it’s to vent about exams, or laugh over a TV show. Set aside time every day to have a natter, as staying quiet with only your inner thoughts for company can cause the negativity to grow.

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