I skipped class to go to the gym and don’t regret it

By Kate Leddy

(Collegian Photo File)
(Collegian Photo File)

Skipping class: many of us are guilty of it. Sometimes, though, we need to be able to do it without any guilt.

This past Tuesday I woke up knowing it would be an off day – I could just feel it. As a person who has openly struggled with anxiety, in part due to an eating disorder, I have come to learn my triggers.

I consider it a blessing to have become so self-aware. The curse is still having a crammed day of classes, clubs and studying despite whatever mental state I am in.

Heavy stress is nothing foreign to a college student. We’re always reading those posters and brochures with the picture of the student pulling his hair or passing out on a stack of books. According to them, handling stress is supposed to be all about managing time, prioritizing homework and getting tutors to keep our heads above water.

I’m not sure when the concept of taking mental health days off from work became illegitimate, but somewhere in our competitive society’s history it seems to have been taken off the pamphlets and rewritten in our minds as “giving up.”

You could say that I gave up on Tuesday, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Sitting in a lecture hall that afternoon, I was focusing all of my energy on trying to slow my racing mind and calm myself so I could be prepared for the next two classes and three-hour rehearsal that lay ahead.

All I could think about was the enormous amount of tasks I had to get done. Dozens of other minuscule thoughts took the opportunity to try and turn themselves into huge problems and blare inside my head. This is what anxiety is like, and when it begins it can be difficult to escape.

I wanted to leave and do the one activity I knew would clear my mind: go for a jog. But a war immediately started up in my head – battles of voices arguing that even though it would help my stress levels and concentration, I was doing a bad thing by being unable to handle the class and leaving to waste an hour that could have been spent focusing on important education. Of course, that old eating disorder voice even piped up too with name-calling and the suggestion that I turn my therapeutic light jog into a hardcore fat-burning sprint.

It was then that I realized in the midst of all my internal debating about needing to just focus I’d hardly heard any of the lecture. So, I packed up and left.

I went to the Recreation Center and ran for half an hour, and it was as though my body granted me an extra dose of endorphins that day when I finished. Almost immediately, I felt a wave of renewed energy, clarity and calm.

It turns out it is possible to skip class responsibly. I can say with full confidence that I was able to focus and learn much better in my next class and take on rehearsal with full enthusiasm.

I’d chosen to skip a lecture that had all of the notes available online – and if it didn’t, I would have contacted the professor for them. And with my fresh energy, I made up the class on my own time in the same day. You could say I rearranged my schedule to work with my health.

When I am older and hopefully have a full-time job and family, I know I will not have so much flexibility. Unfortunately, it still stands that declaring a mental health day from work is becoming less and less common in the United States, dozens of studies that warn about the negative impact on health and productivity that comes with unused or withheld vacation days.

Part of college is learning to understand yourself, your needs and how you work best in the space around you. I will always strive to be in-tune with what I can do to make myself the happiest and most productive in the situation I’m given, even if that means just having enough time to step back and breathe for a moment.

If anything, I’m not going bother spending that time reading another “manage your stress wisely” pamphlet.

Kate Leddy is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @kcleddy.