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A Simple Language Hack to Help Reduce Stress

The language we use matters: remember, your brain is always listening.

Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Throughout my undergraduate and now graduate experiences, I have heard one phrase repeated daily among students: “I don’t have time.” The phrase is often accompanied with a sigh, and a visibly palpable sense of resignation, disappointment, reluctance — whether for an event, a party, or a class someone feels they can’t attend due to an excessive amount of commitments already in their schedule. And to succeed in academia, there is a lot of work. University doesn’t just comprise of work in class but complementary assignments, extracurriculars, exercise, a job (or jobs) to pay tuition, a social life, sleep… You get the point. Under these circumstances, it becomes inevitable for many, including myself, to feel extremely overwhelmed: to feel like you simply don’t have time.

While the phrase itself may appear innocent enough, I believe that the repercussions of its usage can damage our well-being.

 

Here’s why.

First — “I don’t have time” is often used as a phrase synonymous with productivity. In other words, the busier we are, the better. Think, for example, of Arianna Huffington’s awareness-raising on the issue of sleep and burnout, and the disturbing idea that this is a symbol of intelligence and efficiency. The phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” similarly to “I don’t have time” are what we might consider flawed myths on the origins of productivity; having time and having sleep have somehow come to be associated with laziness and inactivity.

Second — “I don’t have time” is often used without hesitation. At times, before we even consult with our calendars, we resort to the phrase. Though various reasons might underlie a quick response, one of them, which I personally took some time to recognize, is selfishness. Too many times, I’ve told friends that I “didn’t have time” to help out or hang out, when in reality, what I now know to be true is that I didn’t have time because I really didn’t want to make time. What is important here is to be honest with yourself in your reasons behind choosing not to take on another commitment.

Third-your brain is listening. Whether you are aware of it or not, using the phrase may begin to influence your relationship to time — say “I don’t have time” enough times, and you may really subconsciously internalize that you do not have any agency over time. Ultimately, this can feel incredibly paralyzing; we may begin to feel as though we lose control over time, and passively participate in our daily activities.

How to use this “language hack.”

What I recommend is reframing “I don’t have time” to instead using “I can’t make time for _____.”

Here at Thrive Global we have many incredible articles on the importance of prioritizing, but before you prioritize, you must make time to set your priorities straight. You have to make time to fully envision your ideal usage of the time in your day.

It’s always important to reflect on how you’re using your time each day, and to remind yourself that, to an extent, you are in control of how your time is managed.

To read more on similar topics, I recommend you also take a read through these articles:

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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