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Misc Magazine: Why Can't We Relax at University?

For quite some time I thought I was completely alone in this. I thought that out of all my friends and acquaintances that I was the only one who found it really difficult to properly relax at university.

What do I mean by relax? There are after all, many ways to relax depending on who you speak to. What I mean by this is the time one spends recharging. The time spent, usually alone, watching television, reading, journaling, crafting, etc. Some might even say doing sports, but I wouldn’t go that far. Though some people need more of this time than others, it is, across the board,essential to a person’s well-being. The purpose of this time is to refill one’s social battery and process the things going on around us.

However, I, and as it turns out some of the people around me, find it really difficult to either carve out time for this purpose or to properly enjoy the time spent in this way at college. From my experience, reasons for this phenomenon can be divided into two categories: social and academic.

People, myself included, struggle to find alone time at college relaxing because of the idea that one should always be out socialising. I find that this idea is expressed in many ways without necessarily being said out loud.

Firstly, there is the image of what your “college experience” should be like. It wiggles its way into our minds through representations of college years in tv and film – hedonistic times filled with blurry nights out and barely any studying. This idea can also be reproduced within familial settings – parents, cousins, uncles, aunts and family friends joining the chorus of people who declare college to be the most fun they ever had. Freely divulging their tales of drunken debauchery, none of them seem to remember or want to share the details of the time spent on their own at university.

There is also an element of this that is very much unique to our generation: social media. Having in your pocket a constant stream of images of people socialising can make the idea of a quiet night in seem quite daunting and unnatural. Of course, one needs to remind themselves that we only see the highlights online, the fun exciting bits of life. Though hearing that perhaps isn’t much help if one is sitting alone in their room.

As for the academic side. I think it goes without saying that we face high expectations in a pressurised environment. Workloads are strenuous, requiring hours of study and revision. I would also confidently state that most, if not all, people who attend Trinity are perfectionists. That comes with positives when it comes to being organised and getting thing done but may also leave us with feelings of deep dissatisfaction with the work we produce.

Trinity is saturated with passionate people at the top of their game, whether that be in terms of academia or in terms of their extra-curriculars. People here have side-hustles, committee positions and internship plans. Whilst that is on the one hand often inspiring, it can also make one feel inadequate and like a failure if they are not matching up to those around them.

All this can make settling into bed to watch a favourite tv show during the evening a guilt-inducing experience. It can conjure up worries of, “should I be doing this? Shouldn’t I be doing that? Why aren’t I using this time to get ahead on next week’s reading?” Or it could even totally put someone off taking time for themselves at all.

The results of not taking such time, however, are disastrous. It can raise anxiety, lead to burn-out and other health problems, like exhaustion, down the road.

I believe that in a world of 5am risers, eleven-hour study sessions and people playing county sport, to choose to relax and not be “productive” in the utilitarian sense is a radical act. To put time aside to ensure one’s own well-being is as important as exercise, good diet-the lot of it. It should be a regular event. It should be a guilt-free event. I know that I am someone in need of my own advice. Going forward I will view my time alone as a rebellion. I will enjoy some solitude despite the voice in my head telling me not to, and without remorse.

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