We’re bombarded with people telling us to take it easy in the current circumstances, but what if you still have commitments and deadlines to complete?
Anyone with access to social media in the last year will be well aware of both extremes of the pandemic productivity narrative. At the beginning of the outbreak, toxic productivity was all the rage in our attempts to cope, encouraging us to use this free time to pick up new hobbies, get fit, or study hard. As the days got darker and the pandemic showed no signs of letting up, there was a complete switch towards the self-care narrative – reminding us all that it’s okay if we aren’t achieving anything, that just surviving this year is an achievement after everything we’ve been through, and that we should just focus on ourselves. I love this idea, as I don’t think we should feel pressured to be our best selves right now given the abnormal circumstances that have plagued us for these past twelve months.
Yet for those of us who have commitments that have continued throughout the lockdown period, unfortunately this message is a bit redundant. Students and those who’ve had to work throughout the furlough period, whether that be at home or as essential workers, have had no choice but to keep going. Most of the time they don’t have the luxury of taking a self-care day.
As an honours student whose performance this year will be reflected in my final degree outcome, when I’m feeling burned out, missing my family, friends and general life, I and every other student in my position can’t just take a day off. I can’t miss classes or skip some readings because there’s a quiz on this content which makes up 20% of my grade. I can’t just take time off because there are four other people’s grades in my group project relying on my input being completed. Extensions can sometimes be applied, but the struggles we’re all facing right now won’t be solved in a matter of weeks; what if we need extensions on commitments for longer than the week or two that the university can offer? I do commend the School of Social Sciences for their five working day blanket extension which requires no formal requests – this option does ease the pressure a little, and I appreciate their recognition of these difficult circumstances. However, extensions can only do so much in this seemingly endless lockdown.
Home learning conditions are less than adequate, especially at this pivotal time in our degrees. My flatmate has no desk to work at, there’s building work outside our flat every other day since it would seem everyone has decided to spice up their houses since being home all the time. We don’t have the peace to do well, and I’m sure everyone is experiencing this level of disruption in one way or another. I also appreciate the library being open just now, particularly for students with no technology access. But with a more transmissible variant circulating, the library doesn’t always feel comfortable, especially not for high-risk individuals, and it’s also completely irrelevant for students not currently in Glasgow. Not to mention the endless queue just to get in which has become a daily occurrence.
I’m happy influencers and other social media users can afford to have self-care days, and I will always advocate taking care of yourself first and foremost, in more ways than just putting on a face mask. But that isn’t always realistic alongside multiple deadlines, employment, personal issues – the list goes on. I think institutions and employers placing expectations on us at the moment need to do more to support their staff and students, whether this be through more accessible help or general flexibility.
I do want to highlight that many courses and staff members really are trying. Several of my classes have offered regular drop-in sessions for assignment support, as well as the previously mentioned blanket extension for social science students. Yet, for example, timed quizzes just now are not ideal. Not everyone has the home environment to thrive academically when others are in the building; telling the neighbours to halt their abrasive conservatory extension while I complete my quiz is unrealistic. We can’t control our home environments, which means we can’t control our concentration levels right now.
Group projects also aren’t great when everyone has their own struggles to contend with whilst also trying to collaborate over technology. Having one grade for a whole group right now isn’t particularly fair; personal circumstances may prevent people from performing to their best ability, which means the group as a whole will struggle.
The bottom line is, absolutely be kind to yourself – I don’t think that narrative should ever be discouraged. But universities and employers’ expectations mean we often sacrifice our self-care to perform well, and that just isn’t feasible as we hit the first anniversary of the beginning of lockdown. Financial worries, health stress, and disruptive working environments are the reality for most of us and an extension alone, which is currently the only option which seems consistently available, isn’t going to fix that.