University Mental Health Day 2023: In defence of prioritising yourself at uni

A night in by yourself is healthy, not boring

TW: Mention of panic attacks

In November, I found myself sitting on the floor of a toilet cubicle having a panic attack about a group work project. The only thought that was running through my head was, “here we go again.”

Ostensibly from the outside, I was panicking over very little. The issue got solved really quickly, and I was able to carry on without anyone else realising that I hadn’t gone for a wee – I had been sitting on the floor of the loos unable to breathe properly. But the fact was that my panic attacks were back again, and this wasn’t a good thing in the slightest.

I went home and hid in my bedroom for the rest of the night. I didn’t go to the society meeting I was supposed to be at, telling my friends I had a headache (not entirely a lie: my head did hurt from crying). But it was this that made me come to the realisation that I needed to take more time to myself in and amongst studying.

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy. To recognise that you’re doing too much, especially when you love what you do, is really hard, but I was making myself ill, both physically and mentally, and I couldn’t keep going with that.

I think one of the reasons I had let it get so bad is that I get major FOMO. It’s probably because I lost my entire sixth form experience to Covid, so there are loads of people, including myself, who are trying to make it up now. They are making plans every night, and I thought that in order to make friends, and then keep those friends, I needed to as well. I thought I had to go to all the societies, and be constantly busy. It took a burnout to realise that that’s not healthy anymore, and a night just to yourself is actually very healthy sometimes.

I think you’ve got to embrace the FOMO sometimes. Yes, there are days when I get to classes and meet my friends, hearing all about the night out I missed because I was too overwhelmed with work, deadlines and genuine exhaustion to go out that night. Do I miss it then? Yeah, I suppose. But when I am at home, with a movie on and my knitting, planning an early night, because that’s what my body and my brain need? Nope. I don’t then.

Nothing is worth burning out for: trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve looked back at first term and there are points where I was so tired and so stressed that I’m not 100 per cent sure how I carried on functioning. I am incredibly lucky that I had people in my life to reach out to, and who could tell me that I was at the point where I did actually need professional help again.

I’ve managed to find a good balance this term. I’ve got my work back under control. I’m going to societies that genuinely make me happy, and not because I thought I needed to. I’ve added self-care into my daily routine. There’s a list of mantras up on the wall by my bed, so they’re the first thing I see when I get up in the morning. And I still make time to go out with my friends every week. It’s all about finding that balance.

If you’re struggling, please consider taking time to prioritise yourself. It’s not something to feel guilty about or ashamed of. In fact, I think you should be really proud of it.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably) on 0800 58 58 58, and Student Minds online here. You matter.

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