Many college students struggle to balance their academics and social life, as well as other responsibilities. Making school your top priority might seem like the answer, but a single-minded focus on school isn’t healthy, either — it creates stress, hurts relationships, and damages your personal health. In fact, students who obsess over school may find their academic performance suffers as a result of poor health and high stress. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid the inevitable burnout. Here are the three habits you need to keep your life in balance.
1. Manage Your Time Effectively
Time management is essential to maintaining a balanced life while achieving success. Keeping an updated schedule is key to utilizing your time appropriately and can be easily done using one of the many apps that are available on smartphones. Apps like Focus Booster, Listastic, and Finish make it easy to create to-do lists and keep track of how much time you spend on each task.
Determined to do it on your own? The key to productivity and effective time management is first identifying what is important to you and then prioritizing your work. If you spend your time streaming a football game or YouTube video rather than finishing a Java project, you can anticipate a more stressful week as you hurriedly try to complete several days’ worth of work in one night. Learning to prioritize your workload will not only help you get more important tasks done, but will also alleviate the unnecessary stress that accompanies procrastination. Lastly, it’s imperative to set goals and deadlines to have a clear understanding of your start and end points and the path you will take to get there.
2. Learn the 3 Major Components of a Healthy Lifestyle
There are three major components to good health — nutrition, exercise, and sleep. College students often neglect one or more of these, not realizing the detrimental impact it can have on both their overall well-being and their overall success. Trying to manage school, family, and ourselves can significantly contribute to elevated stress levels, which in turn wreak havoc on our bodies. With increased cortisol running through our veins, we are prone to more frequent illnesses, sleeplessness, irritability, and undesirable emotions.
Proper nutrition is one way to combat and manage the effects of stress. As project deadlines and midterms approach, you are more inclined to reach for pizza and ice cream, as your body naturally craves foods high in fats and sugar to ease your anxiety and provide you comfort. Your body releases cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress, which can result in you feeling hungry and consuming more food than usual.
Rather than succumb to unhealthy food cravings, your best bet is to avoid items that are processed and high in caffeine and sugar. Nuts, foods high in omega-3s, leafy greens, and even dark chocolate are much healthier options that will help lower your levels of stress hormones.
It’s easy to fall out of your workout routine, especially when you have to stay up all night studying for an exam, but you might want to take into consideration the positive effects exercise has on maintaining balance and health. Study researcher Russell Clayton observes that exercise is a method of detaching from work, be it school work or your job. It’s a way to engage in an activity that distracts you from your everyday concerns, and it consequentially makes you feel good. Aerobic and endurance exercises reduce cortisol and adrenaline, and they also encourage the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood enhancers and painkillers.
Our commitment to getting adequate shut-eye is often the first thing sacrificed, especially as students. If you’re hell-bent on getting that 4.0, you’re more likely to skimp on sleep to finish that 10-page paper for a philosophy class. As commendable as it is to be driven and motivated, there is a downside to every extreme. Sleep deprivation and irregular sleep schedules are actually more problematic than you might realize. In addition to weakening your immune system and putting you at greater risk of getting sick, insufficient sleep also hinders your learning ability, impairs your mood, and increases your chances of academic failure.
Although it’s challenging when you have so much on your plate, establishing a consistent sleep routine and aiming for a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night is essential to your overall well-being. Start by having the same sleep and wake time, avoid caffeine at least four hours before you go to bed, exercise regularly, and stick to eating well — especially before bedtime.
3. Carve Out Time for Yourself
Setting time away from schoolwork is vital to your personal health and should be one of your top priorities. Make time to do something enjoyable like being around friends and family, reading a book, watching a movie, or going on a hike. Engaging in non-school-related activities gives your brain time to unwind and reboot so that you can go back to your work with improved concentration and productivity. Take action—schedule “me time” in your calendar and make yourself a priority.
As you integrate these habits into your college life, remember that consistency is key. Sporadic sleep or exercise won’t have the same benefits as established habits. Similarly, prioritizing your work only at the frantic close of a busy semester might help you get through finals week, but you’ll miss out on the benefits of balance throughout the entire year. Make these habits a vital part of your college experience. You’ll get more done, feel less stressed, and enjoy all the benefits of a life in balance.
Parinaz Samimi is a certified yoga instructor and sleep and wellness expert. She is passionate about sharing her experiences to help inspire and empower others to cultivate happiness, health, and productivity. Having both a Masters in Public Health and one in Business Administration, she has taken great interest in sleep and well-being — specifically their relationship with and correlation to health and productivity. In her free time, she can be found traveling, exploring the outdoors, and enjoying a good book over a glass of Malbec.
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