Students, studying, and self-belief: don’t be your worst critic
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When it comes to education, every decision feels like the most important one. Whilst an exciting time to explore your passions, it can also be a daunting one. In this blog, Lydia-Rose shares how student life influences mental health and discusses how you are never alone in wondering about whether your choices were the ‘right’ ones.
Everyone is normally their worst critic-I was mine. Being a student is all about learning, but not just in the classroom. Though tricky to navigate at times, it’s a perfect opportunity to learn about yourself and life beyond the curriculum of your course.
Think of student life as a step ladder, starting at the bottom, undoubtedly small wobbles/big fall off in between, and eventually reaching the top as a qualified person of some sort. Without a stable base, you’re bound to fall. It might feel like you’re back to square one, starting at the bottom but – remember – you’re already climbing, and you aren’t alone on your climb to success, and neither am I.
I don’t know about you but, as soon as you say – ‘I am doing a degree’ the almost definite response is ‘wow, you must be clever, how amazing’. It is always something along those lines… My response in my head was, yes amazing, but getting onto any degree is hard, the interview process of elimination, dedication, sacrifice, and the rest. Degrees can change you. You gain a lot of independence, figuring things out for yourself, which for some people can be a good way forward. However, this also comes with a whole new situation mental health-wise and can become stressful for some. This is why it is important to any degree, to stay in contact with other students and lecturers, and to stay in tune with the support you have around you. Everyone is in it together, and everyone can help each other reach the top of that ladder! You also have to remember that at times when you might struggle or feel confused, your student friends and lectures/ staff will be, because you never know if something might happen which makes your journey just a little bit smoother.
My experiences looked a bit like this…
- Year 1: WOW, fascinated, love for every aspect of midwifery, besotted in fact, I’ve made the right choice.
- Year 2: 1st and 2nd term, excited, feeling proud, enjoyment and thrill. Last term… Why did it suddenly feel so hard and draining? Was this normal? Emotional and fatigued, like a fog had come over me, shadowing my motivation and love for midwifery.
- Year 3: Feeling lost, anxious, down and crying daily. Telling my parents, I don’t want to do it. I get frustrated with myself, wishing I was someone who could just run through the course without needing to stop for a break. But there are always solutions. I had a conversation with my university, who have facilitated shorter, more manageable shifts for me, and I am having regular in-person contact with a practice facilitator, to check on how I am feeling. I already feel better, and my motivation is creeping back up. I feel my voice has been listened to too. I am feeling more positive about going forward to complete my final year.
Everything I have ever accomplished: school, college, interviews and jobs, I had succeeded without feeling like I couldn’t do it. Yet I know I can do this, but I equally feel like I can’t…. It’s a weird situation. Truth is, I feel privileged as a student to be involved with women and families, bringing life to the world. I love it when I am there, but I won’t know if the stress and burden I feel will go away once I have a professional title, or if it is something deeper. I am fortunate to work with supportive midwives, students, and maternity staff, but I will have to work this situation out for myself.
The fabric of my mental health experiences may meet yours, or be different, just like coping strategies will differ for everyone, but no one is immune from stress.
Here are some top tips for managing the student stress you might have experienced yourself:
- Have tenacity.
- Try not to naturally resist changing your mindset, though it’s easier said than done when you feel in a hole.
- Be an early adopter of change, start with small steps to feel in control.
- Think of healing as a double helix and work on your mind and physical self. Don’t leave one behind, that’s where you start to feel lost.
- Use the support that is offered to you!
Every step you take will have a purpose somewhere. Even when I complete my midwifery degree, the routes don’t stop here! One of the things about a degree like this is that there are lots of other roles you can explore beyond graduation – just because you’ve done a midwifery degree, that doesn’t mean you can’t go on to explore other avenues with it!
This is a good way to think about it, like a stepping stone to the next stage of your future!! Encourage yourself to see it this way, because there is never a dead end.
In the last month, I have changed my mindset, starting to get back to being the driven me I was at the start. I am doing a fundraiser for a midwifery charity, being strapped to a biplane going 135mph. I appreciate this isn’t for everyone but find something you will feel good about doing.
I am going to continue writing blogs, and articles for different organisations, whilst using my sudden enjoyment of reading and writing, to complete my once dreaded dissertation ‘Midwives mental health, and the impact on the student….’ Writing is a really good way for reflecting, and once you get into it it is really beneficial for your mind. Also, I find it influential that by publishing blogs and journals, I can support my readers.
Another point, there is no magic money tree, unless you are a student on a paid placement degree, it can be difficult, but there are many options for student finance to support you throughout the degree.
Anyway, friends and family are the glue that keeps you on the course, the ground roots that keep you going and the bottom of that ladder to keep you stable. Remember, the healing power of a hug, that’s a good start. I am fortunate to have amazing support, even a partner who just holds me and lets me cry on him, a proper mess! A good cry can get emotions out.
Positivity is infectious. Be kind to yourself and everyone around you. The typical saying of ‘anything you want in life doesn’t come easy’, may as well be the definition of a student in the dictionary…but in the end, you and I have well and truly, earned it, and no one can take that achievement away. Trust my advice as a normal girl doing a degree, with a whole melting pot of experiences and feelings about it. A stepping stone to the next part of your future is worth fighting for!
Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available.
I am Lydia, a midwifery student from the UK, Suffolk, currently in my third and final year of training. When people told me this journey would be a roller coaster, I let it blow over my head. But after enduring this degree, I believe I was naïve to the reality of student life in an under-pressured healthcare system. A journey I have thought a lot about giving up on, a lot about how different the real deal is, and a lot of thought about what am I actually doing?
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