Self-care in College

A U-M Senior’s Journey to Taking a Break

By Alexis Howard March 15, 2023
Self-care in College

Running yourself into the ground is unsustainable.

Throughout my four years at the University of Michigan, that is one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned, and quite frankly, am still learning. As U-M students, we are constantly striving to be the “leaders and best” in everything that we do. From classwork to research to extracurriculars and internships, there are a lot of commitments to juggle.

My first two years of college, I thought that I could succeed by simply working harder. And to my relief, this approach worked for some time. I read and reread textbooks to the point of memorization. I ran across campus from meeting to meeting, sometimes literally. I wouldn’t rest until all of my assignments were done perfectly, and I felt thankful for anything more than five hours of sleep. I even remember spending multiple Friday nights during the height of the pandemic studying until 3 a.m. It was hard work, but all this seemed like a modest price to pay for the academic validation I received during those semesters.

Anyone who is smiling in recognition now will know that this wasn’t sustainable. Sure, if you only looked at my grades and performance in student organizations, everything seemed great. I was very successful. But, I was also so tired. It became harder and harder to stay up late completing assignments. I felt so burned out that I struggled to enjoy the coursework and extracurriculars that I loved. Unfortunately, I know that many students similarly struggle with burnout, making challenging semesters even harder. So, what can we do?

Take a break. Even for a few minutes. And yes, I promise that you have time.

What I’ve learned over the years is that when you make time for yourself, things get easier. I started going to sleep when I got tired, and found that I was far more productive after resting than I was at 2 a.m. I started doing something little for myself when things got challenging, like walking outside, playing a song on my ukulele, baking cookies with friends, or even taking a shower. I reached out for help when I needed additional support. This semester I even joined the Michigan Climbing Club, and I make time at least twice every week to go rock climbing with friends and move my body.

I was so used to pushing myself to my absolute limits every day, that this change honestly scared me. I was nervous that I would lose the success I’d worked so hard to establish. Still today, I sometimes catch myself feeling guilty for spending time on anything but homework.

But, I want to let you in on a secret. When I started spending less time on productivity and more time on self-care, I was actually more productive. My grades only improved. And best of all, I felt less exhausted.

I don’t claim to have found the perfect balance, and sometimes I still overwork myself. But I am now determined to take a break when I need it. Every college student’s journey to self-care is unique, and as I share my personal strategies with you I fully acknowledge that different things will work for everyone. With that said, I truly encourage you to take a moment for yourself. Balance hard work and dedication to your studies with rest and spend time doing things just because they make you happy. Take a break, no matter how short. Your future self will thank you for it.

Alexis Howard
Alexis Howard

Alexis Howard is a senior from Pinckney, Michigan studying public policy through the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy with a minor in Spanish through the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Alexis works as a tour guide on campus and loves meeting prospective students. Outside of class, she plays trumpet and is a rank leader in the Michigan Marching Band. In her free time, she enjoys trying new vegetarian recipes and admiring the squirrels on campus.