When I have to work, I really push myself. I’m not satisfied with giving anything less than 100%. During semester time at uni, I am that kid who never skips a lecture, and is always scribbling notes down even if the subject is completely irrelevant to me. I enjoy going to the library in the evening and staying until the early hours of the morning, working on essays and doing in-depth readings.
Unsurprisingly, I am also that kid who cries and/or sulks when I don’t get the grade that I feel I deserve. Unfortunately, the university that I’m at doesn’t like giving out anything over 70%, and the way I write always ends up being more colloquial than academic, so more often than not, I end up disappointed. Especially when the people who wrote their assignments the night before do better than me. Jealousy and bitterness are two of my worst qualities.
This is not the kind of post I usually write.
I’m deliberately being a bit vague and wishy-washy with my writing here. Over the past week or so I’ve been feeling that way about many things in my life, and the best way for me to express myself is through my blog.
In some of the animal rights activism books I’ve been reading, one of the most common pieces of advice (alongside sticking to principles and remaining patient), is to not let yourself burn out. Don’t push yourself too hard that you end up seriously stressing and getting ill. It’s not worth it. Anyone who follows my blog or follows me on Twitter will know that my activism at the moment is lacking, with my only platform being my online presence. Nevertheless, the advice of not pushing too hard can be applied to many areas of life – university, school, jobs, or anything that causes stress!
What to do when you’re burnt out
Well, the ideal scenario is that you catch yourself before you burn out, but in my experience it’s often too hard to stop yourself before you crash. Pushing myself with uni work will be fine and fun until it’s too late – and I’ll be crying on my bike on the way home from a horrible shift, feeling miserable because my plans for the evening were to study, study and study harder.
So, to all of my stressed out activists, students, workers: we all need to find peace within ourselves and create a balance between work and play. I’m approaching my final year of my undergraduate degree and I know that the workload is only going to get tougher. I want to do well, but I don’t want to be so stressed that I can’t sleep at night. Fortunately, a simple attitude shift will hopefully be the answer that we’ve all been looking for.
Find beauty in your surroundings. Once you’ve lived in a place for over a month, chances are you’re going to get used to your area. You may no longer notice its beauty, perhaps your mind will only point out the ugly things. And it’s true, there are parts of the world that are ugly, but the world in itself is beautiful. Whether you’ve been in a place for two weeks, or twenty years, there will be beauty there. Remember it, and enjoy it, because it’s important to spend as much time outdoors as possible.
Find a hobby that gives you peace. Creating something beautiful is something that I long to do, which is why I’m going to get back into painting when I move back to uni. Painting is relaxing and enjoyable, and I can let my mind wander while I do it. It’s a fun skill to learn, and it’s a great thing to do on a rainy day! Another example of creative hobby ideas are writing, or photography.
Exercise to de-stress. Running is cheap, all you need is a route and some running shoes. When I used to run all the time I did notice myself feeling more purposeful and less anxious. I had a goal I was striving to achieve (the half marathon), and this goal was in no way related to any of my other commitments. I think that’s an important thing to remember. Having interests that are different from each other means you have less chance of being ‘consumed’ by a single track mind.
Let me explain this more simply. This summer, I should have been focusing on my dissertation but instead I choose to use the time to start up this blog and really get in to learning about animal rights issues. So I was constantly thinking about the blog, my Twitter, reading books and papers on veganism, carnism, animal rights, making new vegan meals to impress people…it was all I thought about, all I talked about. I didn’t have any other interests. To many people, that would make me a boring person. However, adding a bit of painting and running into the mix and I have three interests to talk about, thus making me a more interesting, worldly person (I’m still pretty boring though!).
Finding Peace Within Yourself
Once you have established your balance between work and play, and have distinguished between what makes you stressed and what keeps you calm, you will be far more effective at what you do. Do you think the best activists are the tired, anxious and miserable ones? Of course not. The best activists are the passionate, caring, enthusiastic people who love what they do because they know they’re helping the world.
Alternatively, what characteristics fit the best university student? Is it the girl with bags under her eyes, constantly working and stressing about getting in enough references? Working hard is important, but in order to be successful and happy with your uni experience, we need to learn that downtime is just as necessary. I don’t really conform to typical student standards, I don’t drink alcohol very often and I attend all my lectures, but I’ve learned enough to know that allowing time for yourself is the most important thing you can do. For health, and for happiness.
In summary …
As every good academic essay ends with a concise conclusion, it’s only appropriate that I end my blog post in the same way. Overworking yourself isn’t good, it can often lead to burning out and stress, which can be avoided by taking some time out from your work and enjoying yourself instead. Enjoy yourself by expanding your interests so your thoughts aren’t consumed by a single issue. Designate yourself specific free time to pursue passions such as painting or running. And, most importantly, remember that you will achieve far more from life by being content, happy, and with inner peace.
How do you spend your free time? What hobbies do you pursue to reduce stress?