Balance. A simple word which encompasses so much complexity. Many think balance is a stable state – it’s not. It’s an interplay of dynamic forces that interact in a way to keep a resonant balance (ahhh physics). If one force is absent or dominant then the whole system suffers and imbalance ensues. Life balance is governed by the same physical rules – if some aspect is “out of whack” then balance is unachievable, increasing stress (or disresonance) and enhancing the need to “get back into balance” where the body works most optimally. Any decreases in resilience will also affect the ability of achieving balance. So if there is a lack of basic self care fundamentals, such as sleep, food, water, and love, there is a further factor inhibiting our balancing capabilities.
This brings me to the subject of student self care. Achieving balance between life and work is a skill that needs to be cultivated during those crucial secondary years, yet it is one of the hardest lessons to learn. As a life long learner and recovering professional student, learning how to achieve balance in life was one of the most difficult lessons I had to learn on my own as it wasn’t taught at any school. Maybe it was because I had a perfectionistic attitude or physical accomplishments (ie. grades) were the only important aspect in my academic world…. and usually to the detriment of my own health. I would pull all-nighters, cancel on social plans, abstain from eating, and drink copious amounts of coffee in order to improve my academic performance. The irony was that this behaviour was not self sustainable, only “helpful” in acute settings yet eventually my body would crash and my concentration/focus suffered further negatively affecting my academic performance. *a catch 22 if you will – the more I sacrificed my self care the more my school performance would suffer*
Learning to let go of perfection and be active in living my full life was difficult, yet the most rewarding lesson I’ve ever learned. The reason I learned this lesson was not altruistic, it was more I was forced to because my entire self crashed due to lack of self care and taking care of my self no longer became a choice, it became a necessity. The only way I could find the way back to living a full life was for my self to finally care for me, proving I was worthy of care and love. I hear from students and professionals often that they can continue their self sacrificing ways as nothing negative has resulted yet. Yet is the operative word. If you do not listen to your body your body will find a way to get you to listen – it will not be ignored.
Thanks to my many years of teaching and tutoring I’ve been able to observe and work with students of all stages of life, from highschool to university and beyond. What I see as a commonality amongst students is the heightened anxiety, the fear that if they don’t perform well then their life as a student is worthless (and if their life focus is only on being a student then their life in entirety becomes worthless). I see them sacrificing their self, their fundamental health basics, in order to try and improve their performance. My fear is that they won’t learn the lesson of self care until they, like my young self, “crash”. The vitality of students is concerning, they lack sleep, food, care and walk the halls like shells of themselves. This is not an optimal environment for growth and learning. However, not much of the establishment can be changed. But how we react to the environment can be. We can improve vitality, resilience, mood and focus by empowering the acts of self care.
The goal of this blog post, and really my main goal of teaching, is that you don’t need to sacrifice your self care in order to prove your self worth. The role of being a student is to learn, not to achieve perfection. Perfection is not attainable – if you are striving for it then you are probably depending on the approval of others in order to feel worthy. Enjoy your life as a student – be active in learning, in connecting with your peers and yourself, in trying new things and challenging yourself. Balance means putting equal focus on school work and life lessons. Sure there are times in which we sacrifice to meet a deadline, but that can’t be everyday – or we suffer. Sure we can be upset about a mark or grade, but that can’t occupy our entire being – or we suffer. If you find your life is out of balance address the basics – are you getting enough; food? water? sleep? love? And if you go “I have no time for sleep” that is a warning flag. Time is a choice. You choose to not make time for sleep because something else is more important (and it’s not, eventually your body will take over and force you to acknowledge sleep, hence “fatigue”). Balance is the hardest life lesson to learn but we must learn it. If not we suffer our selves, our minds, our bodies, our souls, and we all deserve better than that.
*Another note* – it’s all about balance – those students that don’t care about school at all (the other side of the spectrum) are also out of balance and lacking self care. We need timelines, guidelines, deadlines, and due dates. We need accountability. The point is to unlink the concept that self worth is tied to academic performance. We need to be graded and marked to know what to work on in order to grow. Constructive criticism is a key point in self growth and learning. When we learn to accept, rather than avoid, imperfection then we our on the right path to self discovery and empowerment.