Life&Style Writer Romana Essop discusses the need for alone time at university, and stresses how it’s okay to need some time out
The best time of your life. The place you’ll make your greatest friends. Three years of social heaven. We’ve all heard such utterances; they’re damn near impossible to avoid. But whilst some may anticipate university life with excitement, thriving off the change in company and lifestyle, us lucky introverts perhaps proceed with far more caution, concern and anxiety.
I for one could not ignore the pressure to love the social aspect of university, at the expense of my own self-love. The family stories which extended conversations well into the night promised friendships and memories seemingly beyond reach for someone having to worry about studies and survival at the same time. I found it difficult to imagine myself living the same experiences and sharing them with so much enthusiasm even decades later, but I wanted it nevertheless. I vowed to be an extrovert, at least for a little while.
One wobble later, and I withdrew my promise. It turns out you can be socially exhausted from spending time with your own best friends.
It’s important to remember that your own preferences and needs should not be ignored. It’s easy to watch your friends and flatmates go out every night, make friends with everyone they see, always keep their doors open, never put headphones in, join ten societies etc. and want to follow in their footsteps. But maybe it’s not the best idea when three months ago you stayed inside for a week, didn’t even smell alcohol, didn’t speak to anyone except your cat and loved every minute. In this case, maybe you need a break.
Perhaps a week of solitary confinement isn’t necessary (and of course, we don’t all have cats), but even a couple of hours alone is all you need to keep yourself sane. Introversion and extroversion are often defined by how an individual ‘recharges’ their energy levels, hence the term ‘social exhaustion’ being a favourite for introverts, who essentially need time alone to continue to function. So we can hardly be blamed for taking a break to avoid a breakdown later in the week. We’re not all Nokia phones with unlimited battery life.
As ever, this is not a black and white case. Whilst some of us need regular breaks and others thrive off socialising, many people find themselves needing a balance. Sometimes it’s as simple as listening to a single song on full volume (or as loud as you can get without damaging your ears). Either way, it’s important to try and ignore the pressures pushing us to overwhelm ourselves day after day, and to reassure our anxieties that the ‘university experience’ is still achievable even if we prioritise our own mental health. In fact, with the passing of World Mental Health Day in October, self-care should have reclaimed its place as one of everyone’s top priorities.
So listen to that album you loved when you were 10. Facetime your pet and ask them how they’re doing. Write a poem. Take a walk. Cook something that looks bad but tastes amazing (or the other way around). Read a book that’s not on your reading list. Reorganise your wardrobe. Stare into space wondering how many hula hoops you could fit in your laundry basket if you weren’t a student that treasured your hula hoops too much to waste them on an ultimately pointless exercise.
Don’t be afraid to take a break.