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Mental Health

Why having an expressive or creative outlet might just be one of the best decisions for your well-being at university

If you were to make a word cloud from “university” you could imagine that words such as “lectures”, “essays”, “seminars” and “exams” would be pretty big. Undoubtably, academic life is massively focused around these things, which, unless you love doing painful 3-hour long exams, can be quite dispiriting. It’s easy to get lost in your degree; moving from one mundane task to the other, doing seminar prep that seems to go on for days, cracking out 12-hour revision sessions at the library. However, not having a life outside of your degree can have dangerous consequences. Don’t get me wrong, being invested and interested in your degree is hugely important. But being solely focused on your studies without developing your interests in the wider world completely narrows how much fulfilment you can gain from your life. Here’s why having an expressive or creative outlet might just be one of the best decisions for your wellbeing at university.

Whether you’re going on a first date or trying to make friends in a seminar, the dreaded “what are your hobbies?” question can be terrifying. The pressure to sound cool, different, and talented often makes students feel ashamed to admit that they don’t have any “real” hobbies. Growing up, I often felt boring; I never joined the debate team, I didn’t participate in any sports, and I wouldn’t dream of playing in the chess club. Instead I focused on schoolwork, over-working myself to the point of exhaustion. If someone asked me what my hobbies were, all I could offer was a tentative, “reading, I guess?”. Good grades were rewarding, but I felt that that was all I had. This sense of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment plagued my teenage years. It wasn’t until university that I realised that good grades could only get me so far.

What often scares people away from trying new things is the fear of not being good enough at them. In a society where the image of perfection is constantly forced on us by social media, looking good is often seen as more important than simply having fun. Looking back now, I know I would’ve loved being on the debate team. But my fear of stumbling over my words or losing an argument overwhelmed me. Overcoming this fear is incredibly hard, but the rewards can be immense. Figuring out what my interests were and what would give me fulfilment was one of the best times of my life. When I started doing embroidery two years ago, I had no idea what I was doing, and I felt embarrassed to show my work. My pieces were pretty rubbish, which made me feel terrible when I could go on Instagram and gaze at perfect embroidery hoops done by people with thousands of followers. However, I quickly discovered that doing embroidery was the most fun I’d had in a long, long time. It was such a relaxing break compared to the absolute chaos that was A-levels. Completing a hoop that I was proud of was incredibly fulfilling. And now, two years later, I even sell my work. Having this outlet, amongst others, has undoubtedly made me a more satisfied human being. With all the pressure at school and university to get high marks, I knew that, at the end of the day, I could come home and do something that would make me feel proud of myself.

My challenge for you unsatisfied souls is to find your outlet. It could be baking, swimming, hiking, make-up: absolutely ANYTHING that gives you that sense of gratification. Undoubtedly, this sounds a lot easier on paper. Investing time and energy into having a go at something completely new whilst trying to stay on top of your university studies might seem just about impossible. And you might try a hundred different hobbies before you find your thing. But don’t ever be disheartened when you’re not good at something on the first try. You are human! And having fun is so much more important than trying to impress others. So, whether you’re a first year who’s too scared to join a society, or a third year who has finally realised that they shouldn’t be spending every waking hour at Laidlaw Library, get soul searching! There is something for everyone out there, I promise. Step out of your university bubble and find what brings you joy. University is a big part of your life. But don’t let it be your entire life.


Words by Hannah Martin.

Edited by Lottie Watt.

Hey! I'm Hannah and I'm a third year English and Sociology student at the University of Leeds. My interests include: writing, embroidery, cooking and baking, the environment, music, and social justice! My articles focus mainly on lifestyle and various social issues.
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