Does "A Change Is as Good as a Rest" Apply to Stressed Out College Students?

Posted: November 27, 2023

As college students, we often face immense pressure to perform well academically, socially, and personally. The never-ending cycle of exams, assignments, and social events can leave us mentally tired. In this seemingly endless litany of stress, the old English proverb "a change is as good as a rest" comes to mind. But does this adage apply to stressed college students?

In simple terms, the saying suggests that taking a break and changing our routine can be just as beneficial as resting or relaxing. It implies that by shifting our focus away from what's causing us stress, we can rejuvenate and recharge ourselves.

But is this approach effective in relieving college stress with so many looming deadlines? Let's explore the origin and meaning behind the proverb and examine whether this saying holds water to the college experience. 

Mysterious Origins

The phrase "a change is as good as a rest" has been around for centuries, originating from an old English saying. It suggests that changing your routine, task, or activity can refresh your mind and body in the same way that taking a break can. The idea is that doing something different from your usual activities can make you feel more energetic and productive.

Popular belief has the phrase's origin shrouded in mystery. A quick Google search claims that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have coined the phrase. Winston Churchill and Steven King have also been attributed as quoting the term. However, a deeper search provides a source referring to a poem published in the Hampshire Advertiser in 1857 by an unknown poet.  The poem recognizes the various toils of life, addressing everyone's stress, from businesspeople to farmers to the poet's wife. Each stanza ends with, "A change is as good as a rest."

Interestingly, one stanza mentions students: "That student, in sciences deep / (With time's sterling value impress'd) / Now turns to My Novel, not thinking of sleep - / A change is as good as a rest." (unknown, lines 21-24).  This section of the poem suggests that students experienced stress even in the 19th century and that reading a novel was an acceptable way to take a break from studying. 

Applying the adage to college stress

So, does this old English saying apply to college students today? As modern-day students, we are no strangers to stress. Our busy schedules, combined with constant pressure for success, make it challenging to find time for rest. While taking a break from studying may seem counterintuitive, studies have shown that taking regular breaks can improve productivity and reduce stress levels. Moreover, changing our focus to a different activity or task has been proven to boost creativity and problem-solving skills. 

Make sure you have time to decompress at the end of the day. When you experience social anxiety, like I do, it is important to have some alone time. Take an hour to do your sleep hygiene and whatever it is that grounds and calms you (maybe a bath and a cup of tea or a good book). — Tips for Mastering the First Anxious Weeks of College

In a psychological context, research shows that our brains perceive change similarly to rest. When we alter what we're doing, we apply the same effort but experience reduced fatigue for the new task. Moreover, changing your routine or activities can stimulate the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and motivation, thus making you feel more refreshed and energized.

There are many ways the adage "a change is as good as a rest" can be practically applied in various facets of college life. Even changing locations could make a difference in how well you can focus on the task at hand. For example, walking to a new location on campus could get your creative juices going for that paper you’ve been trying to write. Likewise, reading through your class notes in the coffee areas could stimulate your senses and give you a fresh perspective on a difficult concept. Other ideas include altering study routines, exploring new hobbies or activities, or even taking a brief respite from academic pressures, such as a movie night in the dorm. Simple acts like going for a walk, enjoying music, or conversing with friends can satiate the brain's longing for novelty and offer a much-needed refreshment when burnout looms.

Final Thoughts

Although first coined in the 19th century, the proverb "a change is as good as a rest" has become increasingly relevant as our lives become more fast-paced and demanding. Its origins may be shrouded in mystery, but there is ample scientific evidence to suggest that changing your routine can indeed refresh your mind and body. Therefore, the next time you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, consider making small changes to your routine or activities. You may find that a change is just as good as a rest, if not better. 

If you need help handling your stress, check out these resources at Briercrest:

Counselling Centre: email

Student Development: email