Why is everyone so obsessed with getting a First? It’s unhealthy af

Say no to toxic productivity and a fat yes to self-care

As university ends for the year and an exciting, fun-filled summer lies ahead (at least we can pray for one), it is time to look back at some of the debatably toxic traits we’ve adopted throughout the year and should ditch before the next one. That’s right, time to cleanse your souls people. 

Intense workloads are, obviously, a big part of the university experience along with the mounting pressure to be working all the time. This is no different for London universities, where there is always that expectation to do extremely well in absolutely everything on top of this workload pressure, and to be honest it’s completely unhealthy to strive for Firsts all the time.

High-ranking unis often expect students to produce top quality work in every instance, which can understandably lead to an unhealthy obsession with grades. This huge toxic productivity culture at uni more often than not results in intense burnout.

The habit of feeling inferior, getting imposter syndrome and constantly comparing yourself to your classmates can become a bad but common one. As someone who finds it hard not to compare themselves to others, I can see first-hand how exhausting it can be. The constant need to be doing something meaningful and ground-breaking can become overwhelming, and taking a step back from it all is definitely much needed. 

Although perseverance and hard work are admirable attributes to have, especially among students, and are definitely necessary when coming to university, there is a fine line between healthy productivity and productivity that becomes harmful and toxic.

The toxic productivity bubble can be easy to become a part of, especially when everyone around you is competing to get the best grades. Students can often fall down the hole of forgetting or dismissing personal responsibilities and obligations and have complete tunnel vision when it comes to studying.

It becomes easy to spend hours on end in the library staring at a screen or a textbook and before you know it, it’s 4.00 or 5.00 am and you haven’t taken a single break. These students who pull all-nighters in the library, often forgetting to rest or even eat sometimes are often the ones that get praised and admired the most, despite the fact that their determination to get good grades may be at the expense of their mental and physical health.

Study Train

On the reverse, students who work hard but also rest well, set boundaries with themselves and set and meet reasonable goals in an effort to have a healthy relationship with their studying, get praised half as much as students who grow self-destructive habits.

One thing I have learnt from coming to uni is the importance of not getting wrapped up in the world of toxic productivity. Although it’s easy to do, it is far more important to work hard and understand your own limits. 

Research by Ryman shows that one in three university students’ main source of pressure comes from themselves, and have therefore considered dropping out due to this. A further 70 per cent of participants revealed that their mental health had been an issue during their time at university.

Burnout and the pressure to always be producing something successful can be extremely unhealthy and can lead to extremely poor mental health among students. The pandemic has only increased this pressure to perform and the rise in toxic productivity. Many students, myself included, are expected to produce the same quality of work now as before the pandemic, despite the extreme disruptions that Covid-19 has caused for everyone. 

Of course, getting a First at university is a huge success and is definitely something to strive for – but not at the expense of your health and wellbeing. The drive to getting a First often turns into an obsession, and an unhealthy one at that.  As the academic year comes to an end it may be a chance for us students to take a look back at our working habits and ensure that we are giving ourselves the rest that our mind and body need and deserve.

If you need more tips on avoiding burn-out and dealing with stress, read our super helpful guide here.

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