In amidst the stresses of first year, getting up and moving can help you feel better both physically and mentally.
When the UK entered lockdown in March, and we were allocated an hour a day for outdoor exercise, I decided to start the Couch to 5k programme. The programme helps you go from never running before to running for 30 minutes straight; something that seemed impossible for me when I first put on a pair of trainers and got going. What I found from doing the programme was that although running is very difficult for me (red face, lots of heavy breathing), I do get a lot back from it. Getting out in the fresh air has given me time to clear my head in amidst a global pandemic, and the endorphins from exercise give me a positive boost for the rest of the day. I felt better mentally by moving my body and reaching new goals every time I ran, and it helped to give life in lockdown a sense of structure.
As we approach a return to university and the part-time jobs and extracurriculars that are increasingly important for our CVs, I wonder how I’ll be able to fit in this exercise that allows me a sense of mindfulness as well as chemically helping me out of my low moods. It’s easy to say that fitting in exercise is important for our physical and mental health, but in practice for me, it’s often the first thing to fall to the wayside when I have an essay due and I’m working all weekend.
Last year, I became overwhelmed in my first semester and the last thing I wanted to do after a difficult day was set an earlier alarm to get to the gym before my first lecture. Of course, I knew exercise relieves stress and gives you endorphins, but if I tried to fit in a gym session, I’d be more worried about how I was going to get everything done. Everything else was essential, so exercise was something I could cut in order to meet all my deadlines and work all my shifts. This is what I told myself, but in reality, I was burning myself out with no outlet to relieve all the built-up stress.
Particularly as we go into the winter months, it’s easy to end up stuck inside a lot of the time. It can often be dark by the time you’re heading home, meaning you can miss the majority of the daylight rushing between classes and finishing essays in the library. Even when studying at home, you can easily spend the whole day working inside and forget to give yourself a break and some fresh air - especially when Scottish weather comes into play. It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing everything you know you need to do for your career, but forgetting about what you need to do for yourself. I’ve found that exercise is something that lifts me out of my stresses more immediately, and allows me to take a step back and have some perspective.
In my second semester, I joined the Glasgow University Pole Dancing Club, which I could fit into my schedule as it ran on a Sunday evening. I noticed a difference in my mental health, even from just doing some exercise one day a week. It got me out of my flat and away from my books, and after the class, I felt the buzz of having moved my body and worked up a sweat. At the class, I got to see friends in an environment where we weren’t just talking about everything we had to get done that week. Learning a new skill and getting my blood pumping distracted me from my worries. The next day, I felt a lot more capable of facing a new week. Even if I couldn’t fit in more than that one session, I knew I had that weekly class that would make me feel better and lift me out of the slump that is so easy to fall into when the semester gets hectic.
This year, I’m going to try harder to find time to move my body when I can. Even if that means going for a walk around campus or the park when I have a gap between lectures, or doing 10 minutes of yoga in the morning before I head out. I know during essay and exam time it’s unlikely I’ll find the time or motivation to go for a 5k run every day, but it’s important to acknowledge how much we can get back mentally from doing some kind of exercise, particularly when we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. I think we can get into a slump, and even when we have time to spare we won’t give it to the things that may help us destress. It’s important to acknowledge that we deserve to give ourselves a break and do something that will make us feel better. Plus, I’m sure my work is better when I’ve cleared my head with a walk or run than when I’ve stayed inside glued to my laptop all day.