University was the most stressful, rewarding and confusing three years of my life. From your first year, you’re told how much harder it will get, but also how much you will miss it when you come to leave. It dawned on me, at graduation, how quick it had gone, and how scary the uncertainty of the ‘real world’ really is. But, if my time earning my degree has taught me one thing, it’s that you have to persevere and not overthink too much.
From succumbing to glandular fever and being very ill for 2 months of my final year—and for my final deadline—I learnt about the importance of wellbeing the hard way. Deadlines are stressful for even the most organised students, but for those who are behind schedule or coping with other issues (or both), the stress can become a very real issue. When your health starts to deteriorate, it’s important to let those around you aware and get the help you need. I was allowed to extend my deadlines by nearly two months—without this, I would have failed.
1. Know when to stop
It’s easy to get into the habit of working late, trying to wake up early, sleeping in and working even later for weeks on end. In the short run, you might be very productive, but this quickly evaporates as you become fatigued to the point where caffeine has no effect and you can’t remember if you’ve slept. This is bound to have an effect on the quality of your work, too. Towards the end of uni, there were numerous times when I would be brewing another pot of coffee at 5 am after working all day and night (and questioning if this is all worth it, plus what is the meaning of life, etc). It’s healthy to completely switch off ‘work mode’ in the evening and give your brain and body a rest, ready for the next morning. It’s unhealthy to not sleep enough and, unless you have time to catch up on sleep the next day, will make you more and more tired. It’s obviously not right to think that this time is for house parties.
2. Believe you’re good enough
It’s essential to believe in yourself. This can be really difficult when nothing seems to be going your way, and your friends have already landed themselves jobs with salaries. This certainly made me feel inadequate and as if I were falling behind, but I realise now that immediate success isn’t necessarily the best thing, and it certainly can be unfulfilling. Take time to find places you would really love to work and understand there is no rush. Even if you are desperate for money, interning and working a bar job part time might work out better for you (especially if you are trying to expand your portfolio). Paid internships are great, but unpaid internships are flexible and tend to require less coffee-making.
3. Don’t take it to heart
Putting hours upon hours of your time into researching and applying to jobs and internships to not even get an email back can be exhausting. You have to learn to not take it personally and move on to other options. In fact, when I was close to giving up on my first choices for my most recent internship, I received positive replies which have resulted in 1 internship and being shortlisted by another. There really is no point stressing over it—they won’t get back to you any quicker and it’s likely to make you anxious in the long run.
Allow yourself time to do what you enjoy and clearly, divide your work life and personal life. Work should end when you go home, however tempting it is to check emails and overthink about that project that isn’t going your way. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be keeping inspired by reading blogs or perhaps undertaking fun personal projects if you feel like it. But leave the stress in the studio and come back the next morning with a fresh perspective and a well rested mind and body.
I find it hard to maintain energy levels when I spend most of my waking hours sat at a desk, especially when the outside world is cold, dark and rainy. However, I can’t stress enough how far even 20 minutes of strenuous exercise goes in keeping your mind and body feeling healthy. It reduces stress and keeps you focused and motivated. It improves sleep too, which can be an issue when you are sat in front of a bright screen all day . Exercise isn’t such a chore if you invest in a yoga mat and you can use the many free courses on YouTube—especially in winter.
Finally, and it might sound corny, but, the most important point is to enjoy yourself. Try and stay positive and remember to inject a little fun into even the most boring tasks. Try and ignore the existential dread and uncertainty of where your life is going and eventually some security is sure to fall into your lap. Good luck and all the best!