02/12/2014 02:30 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2014

Taking Deeper Breaths

Some people use their time while studying to take a small shuffle back from the world and decide what they really want to do in life. What job they want to have, where they want to live, what kind of people they want to call their friends. Who they're becoming, and whether they like that person.

However, it's sometimes quite challenging to do that: I'm the perfect case study for this. For the first two years of my degree, I tried to keep myself busy in whatever productive ways I could. That meant that as well as studying, I engaged with a load of different societies, ended up on society execs, doing freelance writing work outside of my degree, trying my hand at athletics, squash, salsa, and even a tiny bit of yoga. Then there was all of the charity fundraising, hunting for opportunities to volunteer abroad, spending countless hours applying for internships and sparking up a few brilliant friendships along the way. Although I learned a lot about myself, and about how efficient time management can pave the way to an overwhelming number of enjoyable and valuable memories, I never really gave myself the chance to step back, take a breath and assimilate all of my experiences and ambitions.

There were several reasons that I kept myself so busy, and I don't think that they're uncommon amongst students. Firstly, it's very easy to get stuck on the idea that because everyone says that university is the best time of your life, you should do everything you can to make the most of it. While that's a healthy view to indulge in moderation, it can become consuming. There's a vast difference between trying to make the most of your time at university because you're enjoying doing it, and scrambling to fill up every moment because you feel a pressure that if you don't try your hardest to enjoy every second of student life, you'll regret it from the moment you graduate.

Secondly, I was lonely. I'm pretty sure that every student feels lonely at some point in their studies, for one reason or another, and I was no different. It's a really crushing feeling, lying on your own in your bedroom and feeling like there's nothing past the bedroom door that'll warm you any more than the down in the duvet you're hiding beneath. One great way of tackling this feeling is to get out into the uni bubble and start meeting people, making friends and doing things. But it's very easy to get carried away with this spirit, and go into activity overdrive. When that happens, being active can go from refreshing to an unhealthy habit. Sipping soup is much more sustainable than swallowing it.

Finally, I didn't know what else to do with myself, and didn't want to face that fact head-on. University is a strange new world where everyone is about your age, with corridors of doors upon doors upon doors all leading into bedrooms where mold poxes the ceilings and there's more rubbish around the bins than inside them. I wasn't used to this environment, so I blindly followed the instructions of the masses -- that I should join societies, make friends, go out as much as I could afford. However, that is a blinkered message, forgetting to communicate the less comfortable parts of university life: that sometimes, you'll be alone. You'll meet people you don't gel with, and it might scare you. You might not be able to cope with everything you come across, and might not feel like you have anyone to talk to when this happens. When I started to experience these uncomfortable moments, I ran away from them by ramping up how busy I was. After all, that was the only thing I knew to do in the strange student world.

I've been on a year abroad in Berlin for a few months now, and it's given me a chance to reflect on everything that I've done, and see not just how much I got out of it, but how little space I was giving myself to breath between each lunge at activity. Moreover, I've had the chance to confront the fact that the amount that I was doing, and my reasons for doing it, weren't healthy. It was damaging me, both mentally and physically. That list of things that I've done at university, in the second paragraph -- it probably seemed self-indulgent and boastful to you. But it wasn't intended that way at all. I'm not particularly proud that I've done all of those things. Sure, I've done lots, and I've gained a lot by doing it, but I probably didn't enjoy those things as much as I would have done had I stopped sprinting and spent more time appreciating each stride that I took.

One of the most important parts of student life, and one that isn't stressed nearly enough,
is that you look after yourself. Sure, keep yourself busy if you want to -- join societies, make friends, do all of that -- just make sure that you're doing it for the right reasons. As I said at the start of this post, most people use their time at university to decide where they want to go in life, and who they want to be. But it's very difficult to do that if you don't give yourself the space to reflect on what you've done, what you're doing at the moment, and what you're going to do in the future. Try not to miss out on appreciating the most beautiful parts of your life because you're so focused on maintaining them. It's so much easier to breathe when you take deeper, slower breaths. Trust me, I've tried it this year and it really has been one of the best experiences I've had.