Balancing Excellence & Self Care for High Achieving Students

by Jazmin Morris | Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

I’m the type of student who strives for an A for every assignment, views a B or lower as failing, and feels guilty when my productivity hits a minimum. Yet, I’m also a psychology student who recognizes the power of taking care of yourself and the dangers that can result from too much self-pressure. As a result, I tend to have two schools of thought that come into conflict with one another during the semester. One voice tells me to spend an extra couple of hours studying, while another advocates for a proper night’s sleep instead. Sometimes, it can even get to the point where the inner conflict just results in overwhelming feelings of anxiety and guilt rather than an actual decision. Fortunately, I’ve been able to learn from my experiences over the years, and I continue to improve my habits despite the occasional setback.

Having an overachiever mindset can take a mental toll on people, and although many websites advocate for self-care as a solution, it can be difficult to give yourself permission to take a break. After reading this blog post, I hope all my overachievers understand that it is okay, and even beneficial, to take time for yourself. A break from working is not equivalent to unproductivity.

Being an overachiever is especially common in environments that emphasize productivity and academic excellence. In many cases, encouraging people to reach their full potential by working hard can be a great motivator, but overachievers can incorrectly adopt this type of thinking religiously. Maladaptive thought patterns like perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking can send students spiraling in the stress of achieving success. When using all-or-nothing thinking, you perceive situations and people as being one extreme or another, such as “If I don’t get an A on this test, I’m going to fail the class,” which can place a lot of stress on our actions and negatively affect our self-perception. This type of thinking can even get in the way of taking care of ourselves, intensifying the need to be as productive as possible. 

Having cognitive distortions like all-or-nothing thinking, especially in conjunction with perfectionism, can contribute to the development of depressive and anxiety disorders. To help people, many articles will warn readers of the emotional toll that accompanies being a high achiever and/or will recommend ways to incorporate self-care into one’s schedule. Self-care is all about spending time improving both domains of health, the physical and the mental. Taking care of oneself can include exercising regularly, sleeping properly, talking to a support system, and practicing mindfulness. While I agree with a lot of these recommendations, it can be hard to actually put these healthy habits into practice. 

When it comes to taking care of yourself, setting aside the time for it can feel unproductive. However, if you dedicate time towards self-care within your schedule, it can help address these feelings of unproductivity and laziness. Breaks should not only be the few minutes you spend in between completing assignments, but they should also include longer pockets of time. This semester, I’ve been dedicating Thursday nights and parts of Fridays to recharging my energy. Having this time set aside in advance gives me the opportunity to do my work beforehand or afterward, so I’m not constantly worried about my to-do list when I should be taking care of myself. During this time, I can do more enjoyable activities and place my worries aside .

Try discovering what activities are helpful and enjoyable for yourself, because they can differ depending on the person and what is needed in certain situations. This approach can help prevent feeling like you’re wasting your time. I very rarely regret hanging out with friends, so that is one of my go-to ways of recharging. Other times, though, I’m better off recharging by catching up on my favorite show while comfortably lying in my bed. The amount of time that you carve out can also vary, especially during times when your to-do list already seems endless. Just make sure at least some time is spent giving your brain a break.

It is also important to take responsibility for what you decide to do with your time. If you constantly regret and feel guilty for being “over” or “under” productive, it can get exhausting and overwhelming. However, if you do find yourself conflicted by similar issues like I’ve mentioned above, I recommend the following:

  • Know that...

○ it is okay to give yourself permission to relax

○ taking a break can help with productivity by letting your brain and

body recuperate

○ when your thoughts and feelings get too overwhelming, slow down,

take a few deep breaths, and move forward one step at a time

○ “mistakes” are learning opportunities for the future


■ If you feel like you should’ve spent more or less time taking a

break, just use it as a guide for next time. Don't worry

too much about what you “could’ve done.”


Works Cited:

Addison, E. (2021, July 12). High Achievers and Mental Health: What is the Link? Everymind at work.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles. (2023, October 4). Cognitive Distortions: All-Or-Nothing Thinking.


Hall, K. (2022, September 9). Emotional Well-Being and the High Achiever. Psychology



U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, December). Caring for your mental

health. National Institute of Mental Health.

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