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Thriving While You Study: Self-Care Tips for Returning Students

Heading back to education can be the best decision you’ll ever make, opening up new career opportunities you never thought possible. But there’s no doubt that getting a new qualification while earning to pay the bills is a major challenge.

To steer clear of burnout, you’ll want to make sure you don’t neglect self-care. So, we checked out what some experts said about looking after your physical, emotional and mental health while you level up your skills.


Manage Your Time Wisely

Self-care doesn’t just have to be about relieving stress: it can mean preventing it, too, with a bit of planning. The time management skills you’ve learned in your career will come in handy for blocking out your study sessions and setting your priorities. But don’t overfill your diary and be sure to schedule breaks and free time too.

“The point of time management is to get all the boring and compulsory tasks done efficiently so you have loads of time for other activities,” says Pauline Keale, now professor emeritus at the University of Portsmouth. “It is about maximising play time.”


Find Your Support Network

Having a support network is essential, whether you need to talk over a problem or just have a laugh. But it can be a challenge for people returning to study: sometimes your fellow students are quite a bit younger and can’t relate to you, while your peers, who aren’t juggling coursework, don’t understand the pressures you’re now under.

Arlëne Hunter from the Open University says “confidence, motivation and resilience” can get a boost when educational institutions ensure that older students returning to study can connect with each other. Once you’ve found your study squad, it’s much easier to ride out any tough times.


Create a Dedicated Study Space

Setting up a specific area in at home for studying can significantly improve your focus and productivity. Experts emphasise the importance of having a dedicated study space to minimise distractions and foster a conducive learning environment. In her book “Academic Success”, Professor Wendy Hargreaves advises, “The space where you study plays a large part in ensuring you work effectively. Your environment can not only aid your efficiency but also impact whether you complete the work at all.”


Celebrate Your Achievements

The real rewards of studying may be far in the future, so stay motivated by celebrating plenty of milestones along the way. Study expert Chloe Burroughs says it’s important “every so often to celebrate what you’re achieving”.

“Build a habit of recognising your wins and progress,” she says. She suggests adding a space in your study planner to track your achievements. And you can build in rewards – go for a walk, or watch a favourite movie – once you’ve hit a goal.


Ask for help when you need it

Self-care doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. There are lots of options for support on everything from financial issues, to academic troubles or mental health worries.

You might want to start with your educational institution’s advice centre for practical stuff like accommodation or money, or its counselling service if the pressure is taking its toll on your mental health. You can also try peer support services like the groups run by Student Minds or online resources from Students Against Depression.


Returning to education can be immensely rewarding, opening doors to new career opportunities and personal growth. By managing your time wisely, building a supportive network, creating a dedicated study space, celebrating your achievements, and seeking help when needed, you can ensure that your educational journey is productive and enjoyable.


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