I’m writing this article at gone midnight. This will be my fourth night in a row where I have been unable to sleep because of stress and anxiety. This is something that happens very frequently and I often find myself sat up at night, catching up on some seminar reading or researching internships, because if I’m up working and doing something ‘productive’, me being unable to sleep is not something that should be cause for concern, but rather is something that should be envied, right? I’m up, I’m busy, and there clearly aren’t enough hours in the day to fit in my jam-packed schedule.
The truth is, that is a load of rubbish.
At this time, I should be asleep. Unfortunately, my mind wont allow for that and so I find myself ignoring the fact that actually what I need to be doing is not working, but rather spending time focusing on myself and my mental well being.
The problem that we face today is that focusing on your own mental and physical wellness is something that seems to be looked down on. Working hard to improve yourself is second best to working hard in your career or education. We then often find ourselves mistaking what is actually worrying behavior with something that should be admired. We are proud when we work hard, and rightly so, but it almost becomes a competition about who can push themselves the hardest. Work seems to be something to be admired, whereas struggling with your own mental and physical wellness is something that should be ignored to the extent that we should even lie about why we are still up at 4am. Not only is this completely counter productive for us as individuals, it also promotes to others that the fact they’re alone in their struggling and they should actually ignore that and just focus on their work.
At the end of my first year, I stopped seeing my counselor at university. Everything seemed to be going well and I was making progress. When she asked if I was going to continue attending the sessions when I started my second year, I hesitated. I told her I would see how things went over summer and left without arranging a further appointment. I knew I wanted to continue with the sessions and my family had noticed massive improvements, but this didn’t matter. All I could think was that I didn’t have time. I didn’t have time to spend 50 minutes every week focusing on myself because ‘second year counts’. Second year counts? Who cares? So does my own wellness and happiness, without which I risk becoming completely unproductive anyway. But I didn’t think of that, all I was thinking about was my work and my grades. In that moment, I put my work before myself.
Doing well and working hard is great and I am certainly not suggesting we should all give up on our seminar reading, what I am suggesting is that work is not the be all and end all. Your own health and well-being is something you should take just as much, in fact more pride in than your latest assignment grade. Yet a good mental health day is not something people often feel able to broadcast to their friends. By ignoring and, dare I say it, glamourizing, mental health issues; we are trivializing some of the most important accomplishments. Work becomes the ‘be all and end all’ and places incredible pressure on us just to ‘keep up’.
I know that work matters and, in fact, having a focus and a drive can really help to make me feel productive and improve my mood. But sometimes it can result in me putting incredible pressure on myself.
Writing this article at this time seems very hypocritical. I am up, working, doing everything I suggested not doing. Focusing on yourself is hard, but is so important. We should take pride in every achievement, no matter how small and remember that you are the longest and most important project you will ever take on.
Jamie Lee Jenkins, Editor in Chief (@JenkinsLeeJamie)
Picture credit: http://www.cyncity.co.uk/todays-london-work-life-balance/