“I noticed that many students focus on joining societies and becoming a board member right in their first year at uni,” Alycia says about her time at Erasmus University. “I automatically did the same thing. During my third year, I was on the board of the In Duplo study society, and after that I found I’d taken on too much.” The law and economics student suffered a burn-out at the end of her third year. She was tired and often irritable. “Sometimes you’ll hear stories about people suffering a burn-out who suddenly collapse and are unable to do anything at all. For me, it was a much more gradual process. I did recognise the symptoms, but found myself thinking: it won’t be as bad as all that.”
Towards the end of the year during which she served on a society’s board she noticed that she was at the end of her tether. “Once I’d passed the baton to the new board in June, I finally had a few months’ rest. I really did as little as possible during those months. I’d already passed most of my exams and I only had a few degree-related things left to finish.”
During these quiet months, Alycia tried to regain her strength. In October, most students in her cohort embarked on their work placements. Alycia did, too. “That was a bad idea. I wasn’t ready at all to get started again. I woke up feeling nauseous every morning and would skip breakfast, only to arrive at the place where I was doing my placement still feeling sick.” Because everyone around her was moving ahead with their studies and work placements, she felt she had to do the same thing. “That was a bad decision. I should have taken a much longer break. If I’d taken some more time off, I would have been better able to recover. I still feel sick when I’m experiencing too much stress. Thankfully, I’m much better at putting things into perspective now, so that doesn’t happen too often anymore.”
Student Wellbeing Week
The university has its own Are you OK out there? platform, through which it seeks to encourage students to make sure they are all right. Please refer to the site if you need help dealing with stress or loneliness, or if you have no motivation to study.
From 1 to 6 November (inclusive), Erasmus University will organise the Student Wellbeing Week. The entire week will be dedicated to students’ mental health, and will feature events such as interesting webinars and yoga lessons.
In hindsight, Alycia is very sorry that she did not see a student therapist at the time. “I badly underestimated my problems. Yeah, I was feeling a little stressed out. Aren’t we all?” It was not a subject that was often discussed by students. “But looking at how much we were doing, I don’t think I was the only person to be stressed out. Just like many students who serve on the board of a society, I was sending emails all day, from morning to evening, and then we’d spend the evening in a pub. Doing that for months on end, and working or studying on the weekends, can’t be healthy. I just think that many students didn’t quite exceed their own limits, like I did.”
Since at the time, not many people at universities (students or otherwise) talked about such issues, Alycia believes that many students didn’t take their problems seriously. Everyone goes on studying and enjoying student life as they are supposed to. “These are your student days. Obviously, you want to join in all the activities.” She feels that this is the greatest threat – students not being able to gauge when they are exceeding their limits. “It’s absolutely crucial that you keep listening to your own body. I could tell that I was getting a little less happy, a little less energetic all the time. I should have done a better job listening to those signs.”
Alycia’s 3 tips to students
- Listen to your body
While you go about your business, check every once in a while whether you are hunching your shoulders or clenching your teeth, and check your respiratory rate.
- Find out what you want and who you are
Nothing wears you out like always trying out new things without understanding why you are doing them.
- Know your own limits
When you are a student, no one’s life depends on what you do. So don’t be afraid to focus on your own needs every once in a while.
For this reason, she has now established the BeatUs platform. “I gave a presentation at my study society in which I mentioned my stress-related issues. Several students came up to me and told me that it all sounded very familiar to them. Some said that it was great that someone had been brave enough to open up and discuss the subject.” So that is BeatUs’s purpose: to get students to talk. Particularly with each other, so that problems can be brought to light. “Our greatest pitfall is definitely our tendency to underestimate problems. It’s better to seek help early than to seek help late. [If you’re exhausted], take a few more days off and don’t get started again until you can tell you’re OK. And another thing that is really important: listen to your body.”
Alycia herself is doing much better now. She joined KPN’s Young Talent Program in September and is really enjoying it. “If there’s one thing that causes people to be stressed out, it’s doing things you actually don’t like at all. Thankfully, I have been able to find something that really suits me.”
Often students get stressed out because they are not quite sure what it is they want. “On top of the study-related stress, students tend to experience additional stress because they are not quite sure why they are doing the things they do.” This, too, is something she focuses on on her website, called BeatUs-Students.nl. Among other things, the site offers a course on decision overload. “It’s vital that you know what your key values are. That’s one of the first things you should focus on. Once you know that, you will discover what matters to you and what you should be working towards. Once you’ve made up your mind about that, you will automatically experience some mental peace and quiet, and making decisions will become a lot easier.”