George Sherrard – A Student Wellbeing Champion at the University of Worcester – talks to us about self-care and the importance of taking a break.
From a mental health point of view, self-care is about giving yourself a break from the craziness that is modern life to concentrate on your own wellbeing for the benefit of your long-term health.
I have a lot on. A Masters, two student jobs, a house with two small children, a role on the school PTA, and numerous other projects and hobbies. Add to that my total inability to say no to anyone or anything, and I don’t get an awful lot of ‘me’ time.
I recently had a minor op, which forced me to take a break for a couple of days. I feel so much better for it and it has shown me the importance of factoring relaxation time into my calendar in future. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that for a number of reasons, taking a break from the daily grind is vital to remaining efficient, productive and most important of all, healthy.
Here are some of the reasons why taking a break is particularly useful for us students:
Breaks can improve your focus.
If you have an exam to revise for you might think that you have you keep your head in your books until you’ve been over everything. Research shows, however, that having regular, brief breaks actually allows you to retain your focus better and therefore increases your productivity.
Breaks help you process and retain information.
Apparently, the brain has two main modes – focused mode and diffuse mode. Diffuse mode is when we are not concentrating too hard on anything in particular, perhaps socialising, cooking or daydreaming. In this mode, the brain is particularly good at reviewing and ingraining what has been previously learned.
Breaks allow you to be more creative.
It’s no surprise to learn that if you exhaust your cognitive capacity, your creativity will dip. The brain is more inclined to allow profound thoughts and ideas if it is in diffuse mode, so if you want to increase your creativity, it pays to force your brain to relax.
Breaks allow you to evaluate your goals and restore motivation.
Whether talking about an individual assignment or a stressful life situation, it’s easy to get caught up in the minute detail and lose track of where you are heading. Stepping away for a short time can allow a shift in perspective that can keep you on the right track and get you motivated again.
Breaks allow you to maintain good habits.
I am guilty of occasionally missing a meal, being anti-social, or staying up late into the night in favour of getting something ‘important’ done. We all know that’s not healthy though, so allowing yourself time to take breaks means you are more likely to eat regularly, connect with friends and family, and get enough sleep, all of which are vital for our emotional wellbeing.
That’s all well and good, but if you’re anything like me, you’re not very good and knowing how to take a break! Here are 8 ideas for what to do to improve your mental wellbeing if you find yourself with some spare time.
Connect with nature.
If you’re at St John’s Campus, go and sit in the secret garden (behind car park C/Woodbury) or by the river if you’re at City. Watch the world go by and listen to the sounds around you.
Get some exercise.
This might not feel like a break to some people, but if you’ve been stuck in the Study Centre all day long, even gentle exercise can be great for your physical and mental wellbeing. Go to one of the University’s gyms (St John’s/McClelland Centre), or simply have a walk around campus. Every Friday there is a Walking Group at St John’s Campus with staff from Counselling and Mental Health, plus Student Wellbeing Champions.
Have a laugh.
Actively seek out more opportunities for laughter and you will be boosting your mood, strengthening your immune system, relaxing your muscles, decreasing the amount of stress-hormones in your body and reducing your likelihood of heart disease! Why not attend Fancy a cuppa on campus?
Make time for a hobby.
Whether it’s cooking, painting, playing a musical instrument, or gaming, make time for the things you love or you will start to resent the things you are doing instead.
I want to finish this article with my favourite mental health analogy that demonstrates the importance of self-care so brilliantly – the Stress Bucket:
Imagine your mental wellbeing is a bucket. The size of the bucket is your strength and resilience. Into the bucket we pour all of life’s stresses – money worries, assignments, relationships, job responsibilities etc. The act of self-care equates to poking holes in the side of the bucket so that those stresses can escape. The point being that if you don’t take time for self-care, the bucket will eventually fill to the brim and overflow.
DO NOT feel guilty about taking breaks. Understand that they are not only important, but a crucial part of everyday life.
That’ all for now – George xx