University Students: You Can Say No

By Teen Blogger: Nina
Social Media Link: @Carolinaatani

Something that all students will be familiar with, but that parents or adults often ignore, is the pressure that comes with starting university - that period in between the two dreaded obligations: high school and work.

“University will be the best time of your life!” everyone says, or “Take advantage of it, don’t waste a second of your youth”. University IS freedom: you can choose when and how to study, you’re free to make new friends, free to get a job, a hobby and more. The flipside is that you could very well feel under pressure to never reject an opportunity, by always saying yes.

But what does it mean?

This attitude – to always say yes - could be compared to the phenomenon of peer pressure: when everybody does something and pushes you to join in. You often succumb to peer pressure (especially as a teenager) in order to conform and to not stand out as the boring one. The most common example you've probably experienced is in social situations: your friends invite you to a party and even though it’s not your type of party, you go anyway, for fear of being left out.

However, there is more to a student life than socializing. As such, a student needs to make sure there is a good balance between work, studying and personal time. Often, it’s our own will to succeed, to make the most of these years that pushes you to agree to everything, putting you under unnecessary pressure.

My own personal experience is that when it comes to extra-curricular work, I have a fear of saying NO. After all, I believe university is supposed to be a time to explore future career choices, do internships and possibly earn some money.

This overwhelming feeling of having to do something, anything, and always think about my future, pushes me to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way. Whether it's extra work, more studying or taking on further responsibilities, I take it on, and this inevitably results in an excessive number of commitments on my part.

Having talked to other students, I have realized that this is a common pattern: we all have a strong desire to succeed and live up to the expectations on us at this crucial time of our life; so much so - that overworking ourselves becomes the norm and the constant state of stress is just the routine.

Why is it bad?

You might be thinking that taking on all these responsibilities is a good thing, after all they are all just stepping-stones to a desired future. In a sense, this is correct. It’s always good to expand your horizons and work towards your dreams.

However, it also demonstrates how overworking is valued in our society: many hours of work equals more results, equals you’re doing great. This leads to a slippery slope of lack of attention to wellbeing, of denying your own needs to achieve ever-higher expectations.

The mindset that induces burnout (which I recognize in myself) is the belief that if you are not working you are being lazy. Grabbing every single opportunity that presents itself can mess up your lifestyle, your sleep schedule and your free time. Eventually, it will inevitably lead to a burnout.

We have probably all experienced some type of burnout in our lives, but for those who are not familiar with it (lucky you!) a burnout is a feeling of permanent exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. Basically, it’s a state of emotional exhaustion due to overwork. It is a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical and mental stress (webMD).

Burnouts are unfortunately an extremely common state across universities. For reference, according to healthline: “In August 2020, the first time we did the survey, student burnout was at 40%. In April 2021, it was 71%”, - and the number only continues to grow.

What is the solution?

The first step to curing yourself is self-awareness. To realize that you are forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do, or doing so much that it affects your wellbeing.

Ask yourself: why do I want to do this? Is it for myself or because I want to please someone else? There is nothing wrong with wanting to do things because you want to impress someone, but it is important that that doesn’t define your whole life. If it does, in a few years you will likely look back at yourself and not know what you actually like or what you really want to do with your life.

Start to understand that taking a break is something positive, essential even, and do not feel guilty or ashamed when you feel like switching off for a while. When you constantly have things to do with no pause in between, you can blind yourself and not see how far you have come, how much you have achieved. REMEMBER: it’s OK to be proud of yourself and bask in that feeling sometimes, before taking on the next project.

Change up your routine once in a while. Doing the same thing repeatedly: like sleep, eat, work, repeat is the perfect recipe for a burnout. Our brain craves something new all the time, and when we are stuck in the same cycle, we can feel it affect our emotions, body and spirit.

This is why during quarantine the number of burnouts was so high: we were all stuck in an inescapable routine. Perhaps discover a new café to study in, go out for dinner occasionally, take a different route to go to class or meet up with your friends more often.

Most importantly, remember that saying NO is OK. You don’t need to be constantly working or studying - life is not only made up of deadlines and expectations. Of course, it feels good to be validated and praised for doing extra. However, it cannot come at the expense of your health and mental state. Self-care is also important, and your well-being will ultimately affect your end results.

So, try and set some limits for yourself and allow yourself to say NO. Then maybe you will be able to relate to what I suggested at the start of this blog; “University is the best time of your life”.

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