Take a break, save your grade

By By Aaron Zundel

By Aaron Zundel

It’s official. We’re eight weeks into the semester. There are still nine to go.

Sorry, guys. I know you probably didn’t want to hear that. It’s like reminding someone they’ve got cancer. But don’t worry, I’m gonna make this worth your while.

Midsemester is the hardest time of the academic calendar for many students. At the beginning of the semester, most of us are full of energy, confidence and enthusiasm as we enter our courses and begin tackling the workload. Once we hit April and begin gearing up for finals, things also seem to become bearable again, if only because we can feel the end approaching. But right now, in the middle of the semester, there’s no reprieve, no light at the end of the tunnel. Only a constant grind as we run through a seemingly endless mill of essays, homework assignments and midterms.

For some, this rigmarole is a pain, but it’s manageable. For others, it can be overwhelming, especially if they’re trying to juggle family responsibilities or a job in addition to their coursework. It’s students of this latter category that I really want to speak to.

With all the demands placed on students8212;academic, professional and personal8212;it becomes easy for us to sacrifice the things we enjoy in the name of “getting ahead.” One by one, our favorite activities can take a backseat to our academic ambitions. We stop visiting friends. We stop watching our favorite television shows. We stop hiking or biking or doing whatever it is we do when we want to get active. In short, we stop having fun. I speak from experience. I swear, by the end of some semesters I’d forgotten what “fun” was, and it’d be late June before I remembered again.

As the saying goes: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” And it’s true. But though students might be willing to accept dullness in exchange for a 4.0 GPA, what the saying leaves out is that all work and no play also makes Jack irritable, fatigued, depressed, possibly suicidal and a surefire crappy student.

I’m not alone in making these observations. Brian Riedesel, a professor and psychologist at the U’s counseling center, happens to agree with me.

“We have a culture which emphasizes work and accomplishment, which is great,” Riedesel said. “But it needs to be in balance with emphasis on love and play…we see many students who are just getting worn out. Having too many commitments, they lose balance.”

Riedesel said having balance means having equal parts work, love (meaning relationships, but not necessarily romantic ones) and play in one’s life. Without healthy doses of each, students are apt to burn themselves out and become just like Jack. And by healthy, we’re talking about the activities themselves, not the amounts. Binge drinking doesn’t count. Neither do one-night stands. Sorry.

In an ironic twist, Riedesel said, once students are burned-out, they lose their ability to perform at peak levels, and their academic performance often suffers as a result.

“People are like cars,” he said. “And if you run your car’s engine at 100 mph every day, eventually your engine will blow up…there’s nothing wrong with working hard at school, but if you get worn down you won’t be as effective.”

Symptoms of burnout include poor quality sleep, a temper, erratic eating patterns, poor concentration and recurring physical ailments such as headaches and digestion problems.

So there you have it. If you’re burned-out, or think you’re burned-out, take this weekend off and get some R&R. Invite some friends over for a barbecue or go up to the mountains and enjoy a few final ski runs before spring melts the snow away for good. Of course, the idea of putting the books down even for a weekend might make some nervous. After all, their professors might not share the same sentiments about all this anti-stress mumbo jumbo. So to those who feel they need permission: consider it given. You’ll thank me later. And so will your grades. I promise.

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Aaron Zundel