Reducing My Study Load At University

Earlier this week, I was sitting in a psychologists office crying. I was getting over a mild cold and was panicking. I didn’t have time to be sick. It was – is! May. I didn’t have time to be sick. I have four assignments due this month. I’m barely keeping on top of housework. Self-care is something I focus on whenever I finally catch up. I’ve been telling myself that it will get better. Eventually, I’ll get on top of my workload and will be able to focus on other areas of my life.

I was in the office chair, attempting the ‘leaves on a stream’ mindfulness practice. She asked me to place a worrying thought on a leaf and watch it flow down the dream. I smirked as the thoughts immediately sunk the leaf. I left the session feeling better, after talking through my exhaustion. She reminded me that I haven’t worked this hard in a long, long time. I shouldn’t beat myself up for struggling with this workload.

And I shouldn’t beat myself up for wanting to reduce it. I was on the bus home when I realized that the reason I’m struggling is that 3 subjects are currently too much. I’m doing all the readings in philosophy because I love it. I do the readings in Gender studies but don’t have the time to do additional reading, which I’d love to do. I’m doing the bare minimum because that is all I have the energy to do. I’m phoning it in for psych. I decided within 2 weeks that I had made a mistake and wouldn’t be doing it next semester, but wasn’t in the right mindset to transfer to a different subject.

Some of my actions remind me of my first attempt at uni. Where I didn’t care about what I was studying. I didn’t read the readings; did the essays at the last minute and didn’t really care. While my attitude is different this time, I do find myself cutting a lot of corners at times just to keep up. I could keep on working at this pace for future semesters and get decent marks. That isn’t why I am at uni.

I returned to learn. When I operate from a state of exhaustion and stress, I don’t retain that much. I want to be able to devote the time to properly explore ideas and ask questions. I want to do the additional readings. I want to be in a position to have an essay done early enough to get feedback from the tutor, so I can learn as much from the experience as possible. I’m making this decision from an empowered position, not an anxious one.

Ironically, my first thought upon making this decision was that is was going to take twice as long to complete my course. I’m already 30 and am massively behind my peers. I try to show compassion to myself, but I can be ruthless when it comes to self-criticism. I had to remind myself that I could leverage the summer semester and that it doesn’t necessarily have to delay my philosophical career. If anything, rushing to finish the degree could be detrimental. I don’t even know if postgraduate study or any career in the field is viable. Panicking about a possibility isn’t a good use of the time.

My second thought was sheer relief. I’ve been meaning to get on top of my health, as I have a poor diet and don’t exercise. I’ve been wanting to fix this for some time but it requires mental energy that I don’t have. Having that extra mental energy would allow me to take better care of myself. It means I could follow up with doctors about possible solutions/ideas for both migraines and the heat intolerance. I could get the driving lessons I’ve been putting off taking, although part of that avoidance was due to migraine season.

Now – it’s not guaranteed that I will definitely reduce my study load. I will be discussing it with my pysch, as well as finally getting in touch with the disability support services at my uni. I do doubt that this will change my decision, but they may have suggestions that could help. Additionally, I can always add extra units down the track if my health improves. I’ve yet to be improved for Austudy, so all of this planning may be for nothing. However, I do think it is in my best interest.

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