Taking a Gap Year for Mental Health

By: Allison Herman | January 12, 2018
Topics: Life Skills, Gap Year Planning
You may find yourself finishing the school year feeling like you can't possibly take any more. Listen to your body. You deserve a break, and a gap year may be the perfect thing to inspire you.

The school system in America is so rigorous and stressful, it makes sense that high school students are burning out. In 2016, 62% of undergraduate students reported struggling with “overwhelming anxiety”. The same study found that specifically, 41% of incoming college freshmen were seriously overwhelmed by their responsibilities. So you’re not alone if you’re having difficulty finding the motivation to continue post-graduation. Allow yourself a break. A gap year may be just what you need to reinvigorate your curiosity. However, not every gap year will provide you with the same outcomes. An an ideal gap year should allow you to take on a fresh perspective. You should build relationships with new people, visit new places, and interact with new cultures.

A gap year will instill a new sense of purpose in you. Many of us live in one place for our entire youth, where all we do is go to school, maybe work, and participate in a few extracurriculars. This routine can get boring and you may start to wonder what the point of day-to-day routine is. Travel will give you the chance to see corners of the world where you’ll be reminded that life for others is so different.

Susie
Susie hanging out | Photo By: Alex Messitidis

You’ll understand that you don’t have to confine your life to your current routine. The possibilities for your life are endless. You may find a new passion or renew your love for an old hobby or interest. A program involving volunteering will remind you of the status you hold in the world. You may have a newfound gratitude for the opportunities you’ve had and dedicate yourself to helping others, or you may find resources that can help you in the future if you need them.

Gap years will also teach you the skills needed to cope with periods of anxiety or depression. Traveling in a structured program will give you room to develop individual skills and self-sufficiency while knowing that you have support to fall back on if needed. This allows for trial-and-error similar to college. You’ll be in new situations with new people, but you will not be alone. By having this practice, you’ll gain maturity along with confidence in yourself and your communication abilities, which will help you immensely in college.

Winterline GSP students taking time to reflect.

Another difficult skill that you’ll pick up on is resilience. Many students go to college and perform differently than they expected, then have difficulty bouncing back. The same goes for people applying to jobs that don’t work out. On your gap year, you’ll work through trying times, physically and emotionally. You’ll probably fail at something, and you’ll deal with fear and stress at some point. Having field advisors and a group of students around you will help you figure out how to move forward and reflect on your experience to succeed the next time around, which is invaluable knowledge.

I’ve been a perfectionist, type-A student my entire life, and over time, that started to affect me negatively. By the time I got to college applications, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to go to college. I didn’t think I could take any more of the constant work, but the societal pressure for higher education influenced me to go directly to college after high school, anyway. My parents were very supportive of me taking a gap year if I decided, but it was my own anxiety that pushed me to go to college. My freshman year was full of excitement, and I was happy with my transition.

But sophomore year, everything fell apart. My fall semester, I was skipping almost every single class due to being overwhelmed and uninspired. I had no motivation to get out of bed in the morning, often sleeping all day and crying all night. I so desperately needed a break, but I had not allowed myself to take one. A gap year may not have prevented this, as mental health has many factors. However, I do know that I should have been kinder to myself and taken time to recuperate.

My advice to you is take the time you need to be in the best mindset for school, whether that be an entire gap year, a semester off, or some other option. If you’re struggling, reach out to a trusted adult or one of the many resources recommended by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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