A few years ago, one professor’s message to her class surfaced the internet. The whiteboard read: “Sleep more than you study, study more than you party, and party as much as you can.” While an obvious over-simplification of college life, the crux of the message is simple: finding a balance in college is critical.
At the heart of this statement are the three major categories of well-being. According to the World Health Organization’s constitution, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” Focusing on these three facets of your life on campus can be a good barometer for how you are doing overall.
Yet, you cannot simply, as one reddit user replied, “party almost 8 hours, study 8 hours, [and] sleep slightly more than 8 hours.” There are plenty of other things that you have to fit in to your college life such exercise, classes, extracurriculars, eating three meals a day, and even the occasional break. Striking the right balance, however, can help you manage all of your newfound free time, without burning out.
Let’s take a look at some strategies for finding stability in these three aspects of your college career.
The problem with the sleep schedule of most college students is not just the lack of sleep that most get (on average about 6-6.9 hours a night), but also the inconsistency of student sleep cycles. During my first finals week in college, I pulled two all nighters, followed by a fourteen hour night of sleep, followed by another all nighter, and then a weekend of hibernation. Looking back years later — that was frightening…and avoidable.
Setting yourself a consistent sleep schedule can make all the difference. Try not to wake up on the weekends more than an hour after your latest weekday wakeup. Binge sleeping is an epidemic on college campuses and, no matter how many times you try and convince yourself that you can bank sleep or that it somehow rolls over like your data plan, it does not.
I have also forced myself to refrain from napping. If you feel that they are essential, try not to nap for more than an hour and never after 3 pm.
Eight hours of sleep sounds fantastic, but it is useless if it’s not restful. In addition to improving your sleep quality by about 65%, research also shows that exercise can help improve focus, mood, and energy.
Consistently going to the gym will provide more stability to your schedule as well. If you are struggling to find the motivation or the diligence to work out on a regular basis, think about joining a class or finding a gym buddy!
Watch what you consume
I am not just talking about avoiding the freshman fifteen. For many, college is the first time not living at home. Gone are the days of home cooked meals from mom. In addition to keeping you in shape, eating healthy has emotional and cognitive benefits as well.
It is no secret that college can often lead to a rise in people’s intake of alcohol. I could run through all of the statistics, but this is not alcohol.edu. It is important to note, however, that alcohol is a depressant, and it is nearly impossible to find a balance in life if you are in the thralls of a hangover. You can still have fun without blacking out and, no matter how many times you hear “It isn’t alcoholism until you are out of college,” it isn’t true.
Finally, I’m sure that you have been told countless times to not indulge in excess caffeine — especially not late at night. It can throw off sleep patterns and nurture an unhealthy dependency. I would be quite the hypocrite if I criticized caffeine consumption, as I am an avid coffee drinker myself, but one option to consider is supplementing your coffee intake with the occasional glass of tea. Tea has plenty of other health benefits along with the stimulating effect that most are seeking, while only containing half of the caffeine.
You are going to school, afterall. Creating good study habits can serve as the foundation for a balanced life on campus. Procrastination is extremely easy when you are surrounded by so many distractions. Spend your first few weeks figuring out where and how you work best and stick to that routine. Plan out your study schedule in advance, as it will make putting everything else around it that much easier. Try out new study spots on campus, having an environment that works for you can make all the difference!
If you are struggling to convince yourself to do the work on a consistent basis, it may be a sign that you need to make a change. About 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. There is no shame in seeking out something you enjoy. If you are motivated and successful in your primary occupation, it will likely extend to the rest of your life on campus.
Work towards future plans
While school may be occupying your whole world right now, it is important to remember that it is a stepping stone to other things. As much as we may like it to, college does not last forever. Keep track of what you are looking to do long term and take steps that will bring you closer to achieving those goals. Most colleges have a career center that can help students figure out their interests and point them in the right direction.
Giving yourself a breather every once in a while is necessary to make college sustainable. The beauty of planning out certain other aspects of your life is that it’s easier to map out your actual free time. No one needs to be doing something all of the time. For those who are a bit more introverted, giving yourself some alone time to watch your favorite show or read a book can help you re-energize. For the more extroverted student, getting together with friends can be a great way to break up the fast-paced nature of most campuses.
College is a time for you to branch out and figure out who you are and who you want to associate with. To break that down into a formula would not do justice to the varied experiences that every person can have on a college campus. That said, there are some things that you should keep in mind that will help regardless of your social preferences.
Everyone always says that they most regret the things that they didn’t do. The more involved you are, the more you will feel at home on your campus. Join that club you keep seeing flyers for on campus. Play an intramural sport if one interests you. You may hate the experience, but at least you will know that those things don’t interest you (and maybe even make a few friends along the way).
Once you do start to realize where your interests lie, stay true to them. While it can be fun to take part in all of the same things as your friends, you will probably see them all the time anyway. It would be a shame to sacrifice things you enjoy, especially if you are doing so to make room for something to make your friends happy.
Not only will being kind have the obvious benefit of not putting you at odds with other kids around campus (I had a friend who said she spent her second semester avoiding everyone that she met in her first semester), it will also make you feel better yourself. A 2016 study by Oxford University found that “being kind to others causes a small but significant improvement in subjective well-being.”
Navigating the social challenges that kids face on a college campus can seem just as daunting as the academics itself. These are supposed to be “the best four years of your life” as everyone and their mother will tell you. The reality is that there will be times where you won’t feel on top of the world, and that is okay. The thought that kept racing through my head throughout my first few weeks at school was “This doesn’t seem sustainable.” I was right, and thankfully I turned to therapy for help.
Whether it be due to unhappiness in your social life, or just struggling to find a balance throughout your college experience, talking to an objective third party like a licensed therapist can make all the difference. With a busy school schedule, the flexibility of online therapy might work for you! It works around your schedule right from your phone. It made these past few years infinitely more manageable for me and it may be able to do the same thing for you.