A student’s relationship with: Rest
Rest is something I’ve seen myself and many of my fellow students struggle to get right at university. While I’m not an expert on how to generate and maintain an ideal work / rest balance, experience has taught me one or two things about improving my study performance and avoiding burnout through embracing a rhythm of regular time off.
Humans aren’t designed to work at full capacity all day, day after day, and as such, we’re not very good at it. Of course, there are exceptions – some people I know seem to possess an incredible dedication, stamina and self-control able to keep them glued to their desk nine hours a day, seven days a week, taking only toilet breaks and presumably earning themselves a place far beyond the first-class boundary. I am not one of those people and, chances are, neither are you. Good for them, I say, but for the rest of us who might struggle to keep focus just a little while into a study session or burnout half-way through term, one common contributor is a lack of …not working? That fact of the matter is, everyone is built to their own specification when it comes to study cycles. We fall short of not only achieving our potential academically but doing so in a healthy and sustainable way when we fail to gauge our limits and plan rhythms of rest in accordance with these. I know few students who wouldn’t love the gift of being able to work like the ‘machine’ described above and maybe we all assume that, because some are capable of it, the only reason we fail to achieve this work model is because we don’t try hard enough. True, we can improve performance by pushing our limits, but as we try to be that machine day after day and don’t account for the rest we need, we set ourselves up for failure. Maybe we last a week or a day, maybe not even that. Instead, taking proper rest can revolutionise how we work and how we feel about it.
There are various rhythms to life, and each benefits from its own rest phase. Terms need holidays and weeks need weekends, while days and hours also need periodic rest. Problems arise when we aren’t intentional about these rest periods. When you take a holiday, undertake not to touch any work during that time – this releases your mind from the burden of feeling like you should be working and allows you to actually recover from a busy term. Sure, we usually need to be productive during the holidays to keep up with university work, but if you have a four-week break, take two weeks of proper rest – or however much you feel you need in order to ‘reset’ – that is, fully recover from the previous term. If you don’t take a long enough time off, the exhaustion from the last term will carry over to the next. This cycle will continue until the inevitable burn-out hits and, unfortunately, this will likely occur in the middle of term. This next tip might sound a little much but it has worked wonders for me: take one day a week off. With few exceptions, I haven’t worked on Sundays for about three years now. It has made all the difference for my work balance as it gives me one guilt-free day a week. I am encouraged to work harder during the week and have a free day to look forward to at the end of it, besides, I have new energy come Monday. Being strict with this rule, living with ‘forced rest’ gives the week a sustainable balance. Recovery is built in.
Finally, think about how and when to take breaks during the day. Plan them beforehand – if you say to yourself “I’m going to do as much as I can before I take a break” you may burn out and have nothing left to give afterwards. If you’re in a slump and tempted to procrastinate, knowing that a break is coming up often provides the focus to keep going a little longer. How often you take a break during the day depends on you, the type of work you’re doing and whatever else you’re up to during the day. Sometimes aiming for less yields better results: e.g. If you are able to work 10am – 12pm and 1pm – 4pm, that’s better than going 9am – 1pm solid and getting nothing done after lunch because you aimed to go 9am – 6pm but ran out of gas. Besides, setting smaller goals and achieving them is much more encouraging than failing to work as much as intended day after day.
Conclusion / TLDR
See rest as an essential part of your routine and be very intentional about planning it in ahead of time – on a daily, weekly and termly scale. Consider allocating a weekly day-off and stick to not working that day. Set yourself up to succeed, not to fail, by setting achievable study-time targets – this should give you a sustainable study routine which benefits your mental health by reducing pressure while enabling you to be more productive overall.