Unpacking the Fifth Week Blues


Ah, 5thweek. The perennial embodiment of stress, sleep deprivation and essay crises. The pinnacle of the madness that, although it’s sometimes hard to believe, we did, in fact, sign up for. About now, those fresh faces, ready for the new term, are as stale and lifeless as the depths of the Lower Gladstone Link, and our workload is probably in a situation as sticky as the cheese floor at Park End. The termly ritual of the ‘Blues’ seem to sit high in the Oxford consciousness, whispered under the breath on the way to hall, around the pool table in the JCR or in the lofty heights of the Upper Camera. Indeed, so fabled is this mid-point in term that we receive a barrage of welfare emails and updates, offering us anything from flower-arranging to free chocolate.


Of course, it’s natural that by this point we’ve reached peak fatigue. Who wouldn’t have? After all, many of us are starting our 6threading list in 4 weeks, and the grind of 9ams is sure to bring anybody down. Is that the light at the end of the tunnel? Nope, it’s your tutor. And they’ve got another assignment for you. The start of term seems so far, yet the end is somehow no closer. Yet, for all hype, I’m left wondering whether the mystical ‘Blues’ are anything more than just that. Hype.


Certainly, we tell ourselves 5thweek is going to be bad. Mentally, we’re ready for it. Indeed, as one PPE student tells me: ‘It’s when the regret kicks in’. Nevertheless, perhaps such a negative outlook makes the doom and gloom of the halfway point somewhat self-perpetuating? Surely, in going into the week with this mindset, we’re asking for a bout of the mid-term melancholy? Certainly, some of the research would seem to suggest so, with a number of studies linking negative mental attitudes not only to increased incidences of depression, but also to the presence of more physical ailments.

In this case, then, could we suggest that 5thweek blues are merely a social construct, envisioned by both ourselves and our academic peers over in East Anglia?

No. For whilst a negative mental attitude certainly won’t help our midway experience, we shouldn’t ignore the brutal realities of Oxford. It’s hard, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. Indeed, an increasingly large body of research has found that a doctrine of ‘forced positivity’, in which we tell ourselves that everything is ok, all of the time, may in fact be worse for us mentally than accepting our low points. Some psychiatrists have even suggested that, in forcing ourselves to be happy, we avoid dealing with the issues in our lives. In this case, then, perhaps the ‘Blues’ of 5thweek are something to embrace, rather than to ‘fix’. Oxford degrees are exhausting, and it’s natural that at the mid-point, we feel daunted at the prospect of another 4 weeks in the madhouse. In this case, instead of suppressing these feelings, let’s look to accept them and all the problems they may bring. So, when you’re walking amongst the dreaming spires this 5th week, wishing you could scream like the gargoyles on the Bod, remember: It’s absolutely ok to not feel ok.

Laptop and girl biting pencil, Jan Vasekhttps://pixabay.com/photos/laptop-woman-education-study-young-3087585/


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