“Take a break? No way!”

A year ago my eyes wouldn’t stop twitching, I suffered from some awful headaches and I kept misplacing things. I didn’t realise it at the time, but as a result of moving out of home in Malaysia and into a completely different environment I was stressed out. I was in denial about the fact that I was struggling to adapt and that I really missed home. My solution was to power through all of my homework (and set myself extra work as well) without giving myself a break and this resulted in me feeling like I was totally falling apart within two months of starting at my new school in England.

Luckily, our mid-term break happened just when I needed it and I was able to spend a few days without thinking about school from dawn to dusk. Simultaneously it meant that I had time to assess my mental health and try and figure out why I was in the state that I was in. During a call with my parents I described my twitching eyes and found out that apparently my dad had had the same problem when he was in his last years of high school! He said the cause was stress and that I needed to take a few days off and not do any work. Initially I refused, because I knew that even though it was the holidays, I’d been set a good amount of work to do and I was worried that if I didn’t start it early, I wouldn’t get it done in time for school.

But when I sat down to actually start on some of the work, the twitching bugged me incessantly and so I gave up after half an hour and told myself that I would listen to my dad and give myself a few days off. I spent the next few days watching films and reading non-academic books as well as reflecting on the last couple of months during which change had hit me like a whirlwind. The guilt of not doing work stayed with me, but I could feel my body recovering and eventually the twitching stopped. By the end of the break I realised that while my report card might thank me for the hard work I was putting in, my body was warning me that my work ethic had become unsustainable. Furthermore, I became aware of the fact that I hadn’t really made an effort to make friends at my new school and part of the reason that I refused to stop working was because I felt a little bit lonely and homesick.

So when I got back to school I made a few resolutions: I was going to let myself take breaks occasionally and I was going to make an effort to make friends. In the following months I managed to find a balance between work and play and since then I haven’t had any problems with twitching eyes or headaches and while I occasionally misplace things, I can normally find them again. The lesson I learnt was that it was okay to take time to adapt and that I needed to allow myself time to actually settle into a place before telling myself to “go, go, go” in terms of my studies. We live in a world that never stops moving and sometimes it feels like we need to run ourselves ragged in order to keep up. But even the best athletes need to allow their bodies time to recover and if you feel like you’re totally overwhelmed, it might be good to take a step back to breathe and prepare yourself before going back into the fast track. I promise that not only is it okay to take a break from time to time, it’s good for you and your mental health.

With all my love,

Ilona

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