One of the first areas of your life to take a hit once your coursework picks up will be your downtime. By its very nature, scholarly work is such that it can always benefit from more time put into it. Each paper can benefit from one more draft, each reading from more detailed notes. And your graduate courses will be designed so as to pack as much material into the semester as possible, leaving you with more work to be done than there seems to be time to do it in. As such, it can be tempting to neglect your hobbies or stop sleeping or otherwise stop taking care of yourself so as to get all your coursework done. This is called academic guilt: when you feel guilty for taking time for yourself when you could be working on your studies (Lobo 84).
In its own way, downtime can be healthy. According to Christine M. Fitzgerald, Professor of English at the University of Toledo, experts generally agree that giving your brain a break from the kind of conscious activity required for schoolwork allows other areas of your brain to take over, which can help you learn and remember things (102). In other words, downtime can actually help you with your studies, even if your academic guilt might try to convince you otherwise!
The trick, though, is to make sure your downtime is really downtime. If you try to replace the conscious mental activity of schoolwork with more conscious mental activity from, say, your job, your brain won’t get the rest it needs in order to do its subconscious downtime work (Fitzgerald 106). The pages on this website about "Managing Stress" suggest a number of activities you can do to take full advantage of downtime.
Make sure downtime is part of your schedule! As mentioned earlier, it can be easy to let your schoolwork overpower your downtime. Don’t let this happen. Set aside time specifically for downtime or stick with it, or else you’ll burn out quickly.
A Note About Mindfulness
One way to make sure your downtime is really downtime is with mindful meditation. While a proper practice of mindfulness is more complicated that what follows, a good beginning exercise is to count your breaths:
- Focus your attention on a point about two inches below your belly button and imagine it’s the center of the universe.
- When you breathe in, think “one” with your whole mind.
- When you breathe out, think “two.”
- Feel the air go in and out of your lungs, your diaphragm moving, etc., and let every muscle in your body relax.
- Stay aware of your surroundings, but don’t focus on any one thing in particular.
- Keep counting up until ten, then start over.
Matthew Moffett lives in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, with his wife, Sara, his two kids named Harper and Viola and a Shetland sheepdog named Donny. He studies creative writing and teaches Freshman Composition and enjoys writing really, really, really short poems, which goes well with his busy schedule. He’s not very good at writing about himself.
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