As a third-year university student, I often find myself feeling overwhelmed with the stress of impending deadlines, assignments and the responsibilities of regular adult life. One of the key factors keeping stress from shutting me down completely is my horse, Periwinkle.
I’m an avid equestrian, and I have spent hundreds of hours on the back of a horse. Growing up in rural Alberta, I’ve always had access to horses and I’m incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to bring my horse with me to Calgary while I’m in university. Having her only half an hour away while I’m in school has made a major difference in my life.
I know that I’m not alone in this, as students everywhere experience school-related
stress. A study published in May 2019 by Uni Health in the UK found that 80 per cent of students in post-secondary education reported feeling stress or anxiety about school and that 9 in 10 students have experienced school-related stress.
Experts say one of the best ways for students to combat this stress is through a commitment to hobbies and activities outside of school.
Sonya Flessatiー a counsellor at Mount Royal University since 2002ー can confirm these results. She sees many students with a lack of balance, saying, “their life is about the demands and stress and lacking in areas related to stress relief.” She adds that part of her work is helping students work on strategies to help trigger positive feelings.
Flessati emphasizes the importance of mental health for post-secondary students, saying, “it’s a big time of transition.”
Derrick Frost discovered the benefits of having a break from school as early as high school . After starting a band in 2014, the drummer quickly realized the positive effects his hobby was having.
“If I had a crappy day at school or something, I would go downstairs and beat the crap out of my drums and feel better,” explains Frost.
Living evidence that hobbies can make major changes in mental health, Frost reflects on his involvement with music in high school, saying music became his escape.
“If we look at the benefits first and foremost, hobbies provide an opportunity where students can be distracted,” says Flessati, “when you’re fully engaged in an activity, and it’s something that comes really easy, it triggers enjoyment.”
Becoming totally immersed in an activity also provides a mental break from stress around deadlines and upcoming projects, which Flessati says can trigger not only positive emotions, but “a form of mindfulness.”
A 2014 study put out by Harvard Medical School says that mindfulness can be the perfect strategy for helping relieve some of the effects of anxiety.
By providing a break for students, Flessati believes that hobbies can help the body “take a break and re-energize itself.”
For me, the barn has become a place where the worries of school and friends disappear. Granted, they can be replaced by new stressors that only a horse can bring ($800 emergency vet bill anyone?) but it’s worth it. The ability to completely remove myself from campus not only physically but mentally has been the reprieve that I’ve needed.
Hobbies generally fit into two categories: those that are more socially inclined and those that are more individual. As for which type has a bigger benefit, counsellor Flessati says it’s dependent on the individual’s needs.
“It just depends on where the person is at and how they assess what needs might be important for them,” she says.
Frost’s involvement with a band has given him many social opportunities. “Without music in my life I wouldn’t have gotten to do a lot of cool things or meet a lot of cool people,” he says. Personally, I’ve found riding to be the perfect mix of a social and an individual hobby, I get to socialize and chat with other people at the barn, but at the end of the day, the success of my ride depends on how I’m communicating with my horse.
One of the challenges of having a hobby is finding the perfect balance in your schedule. I often find myself scrambling to fit in lessons, or even just a few spare moments at the barn. Prioritizing school can become frustrating when I would much rather be there.
Frost shares this challenge. Although he is no longer a full-time student, he has a work schedule that only comes out a week in advance. He says it can be tough to schedule time around the band.
However, when he is able to have time for music, the stress of work and life “goes out the window,” and he can “put the world aside.”
For anyone who doesn’t have a hobby yet, Flessati offers some advice, saying it’s important for students to be “open to possibilities, to be open to experiment, and to be creative.”
Mount Royal University offers several clubs on campus catered to almost every interest out there. A list and more information can be found here.
While my time at the barn doesn’t make my deadlines melt away, it does give me just enough time to take a mental break and recharge so I can tackle school renewed. As long as I keep making time for riding, and other things outside of school, I know that my stress will stay manageable.
- By Chloe MacEachern