Building Healthier Habits During Your Gap Year: Changing Your Perspective on Time

By Liv Cerba

What’s a gap year supposed to look like? For some people, it looks like traveling around the world, volunteering in unfamiliar communities, learning about new cultures, taking free online classes, working in your hometown… I did some of these activities at various points throughout my gap year. However, I have also come to see this year as a tremendous opportunity to work on myself and develop a healthier lifestyle, things that are often overlooked as ways to spend one’s time but that are incredibly important.  



I think it’s beautiful to have tangible goals and to be pursuing dreams bigger than yourself. However, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the madness of it… Especially in times of COVID-19, it’s necessary (at least for our mental health) to remain resilient. At the beginning of my gap year, I did an internship where I was in charge of co-organising a forum of conferences at the United Nations in Geneva. As a graduate in International Relations, it was like a dream come true. However, for reasons we all can very well imagine, the forum was held on zoom and I never set foot in the UN headquarters. 


That deception was followed by a couple of months of unemployment. At first, it seemed so far away from what I had imagined my gap year to be, but then I realised the position I was in. I had the privilege to be gifted the only thing that I had missed so badly these past few years: time. 


I’ve always loved reading. I spent my childhood and early teenage years reading everything that came under my radar. But like a lot of college students, academic readings were already quite heavy and when I came back home, reading was the last thing I wanted to do with my free time. Each year, on the first day of January, I would write “read more” in my resolutions. 


In 2021, I decided I needed a change. I broke down this big goal into smaller goals: that’s how I started reading for fifteen minutes every night before bed. As the days went by, I would get frustrated that it was so late and I couldn’t read more. I started carving out time in my day to read a bit more. Eventually, I decided that each weekend, I’d give myself a few hours to read, and that’s how I’ve been spending most of my Sunday afternoons for a while now. 



I used to see reading as a way of expanding my knowledge. Each time I wasn’t reading something related to my field of study, I felt like I was losing valuable time. That’s the point I was missing: what you’re doing doesn’t have to add up to something. When you’re reading or when you’re taking time to do something you genuinely enjoy, you’re building your inner world. One brick after the other, you are putting together what makes you who you are; you are looking inside instead of outside. I think it can give us more strength than we realise.  


I guess what I learnt is: at the end of the day, your time doesn’t necessarily have to produce something tangible. It doesn’t have to make sense to others. I realise that moments you spend with yourself is something incredibly valuable even if it doesn’t necessarily show from the outside. Especially when you are struggling with anxiety, chronic depression, or other mental health issues, taking this time can actually increase your future productivity and capacities to study or work. 


Your gap year is the perfect time to implement these habits you have been thinking about but never dedicating enough time to. Whether it is working out more, reading more, seeing your family more often… You actually have the time. And time spent on these kinds of things will never be wasted.