There’s no doubt that, for many students, university life can be overwhelming. For undergraduate students, there is enormous pressure to meet deadlines and achieve academically, while also maintaining a busy schedule of socializing and extra-curricular activities. For postgraduates, the pressure is different but no less intense; the often solitary postgraduate lifestyle can take its toll, and many postgraduates are under pressure to develop their careers, network and gain valuable work experience alongside their studies.
Student life is notoriously busy and exhausting, and it is almost expected that students (particularly undergraduates) should be burning the candle at both ends. Amongst students, there is an unspoken macho culture which celebrates ‘overdoing it’ – pulling all-nighters, staying out late and engaging in last minute cramming at the end of term. Many students pride themselves on their ability to maintain this lifestyle without succumbing to exhaustion. However, for many students this way of working is unsustainable, and it’s no surprise that some students burn out and end up feeling tired and stressed.
Learning to relax and take time out for yourself may not be very ‘cool’, but it is necessary for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially at university. Below, I have listed some of my favourite activities which promote wellbeing and relaxation. Although not all of them will suit everyone, I have tried to use examples that are cheap, inclusive and accessible to all.
Yoga is not just physical exercise, it is also a spiritual and mental practice which uses postures, brain exercises and breathing techniques to promote strength, relaxation, flexibility and balance. Yoga is great for anyone who wants to be more mindful and develop an awareness of their body through movement and meditation.
There are loads of yoga classes available in Sheffield, such as those held at the Goodwin Sports Centre. The University’s Yoga and Pilates Society also run a range of different classes, including Ashtanga yoga, minded yoga (a form of yoga that promotes mindful awareness) and Pilates (which is very different from yoga, and focuses more on core strength). There is even a hot yoga studio in Crookesmoor, if you’re up for a challenge (honestly, it’s fantastic and very relaxing – nowhere near as scary as people make out)!
Yoga is often misrepresented in the media, and is frequently portrayed as intimidating and pretentious. In reality, yoga is nothing like this; anyone of any age, gender, shape and size can take part, and classes are usually welcoming and diverse.
Running is arguably the most democratic sport. You don’t need to join a club or pay membership fees to take part; all you need is a pair of running shoes, and you can hit the road! This makes it perfect for students. Some beginners may find the first few weeks a bit challenging, but I promise you it gets better very quickly and, before long, you really start to look forward to it!
Like all exercise, running has major health benefits. However, I would argue that running is unique. It is inherently natural and human, and helps us to connect with our bodies. This is particularly helpful for students, who are so often engaged in intense mental labour such as reading, writing and conducting research. Running offers a chance to get out in the fresh air and enjoy the glorious views over Sheffield!
Mindfulness is a practice which promotes awareness of one’s body and surroundings. Practicing mindfulness meditation teaches individuals to focus on the present moment, which ideally helps them to gain a more grounded, peaceful state of mind. Mindfulness is currently enjoying a moment in the spotlight: celebrities like Emma Watson have declared their commitment to the practice and mindfulness apps like Headspace have been become extremely popular.
Despite this newfound surge in popularity, mindfulness remains widely misunderstood and has recently been the subject of much criticism and derision in the media. Generally, critics have sought to characterize mindfulness as pseudo-spiritual mumbo-jumbo, carried out by hemp-clad hipsters with too much money and time.
Stereotypes like this could not be more wrong – mindfulness is practiced by people from many different walks of life and there are plenty of really good online resources that are completely free, as well as free/affordable meditation classes and workshops all around the country. There’s also a lot of very reputable research behind mindfulness which strongly suggests that it has major long-term benefits, both for health and general wellbeing. In fact, evidence of its effectiveness is so strong that it is used by the NHS to treat various illnesses and disorders.
Hopefully some of these ideas are helpful. Although it’s sometimes difficult to justify taking time out, I have found that – in the long-run – it helps me to focus more effectively on my work and achieve my goals. Overall, it’s important to remember that taking time out for yourself isn’t an indulgence, it’s a necessity. Whether you enjoy playing sport, meditating or even just going for walks in the Peaks, these activities are an important part of maintaining a healthy well-rounded lifestyle, and will almost certainly help you to achieve academic success.