Compare college to a rollercoaster and you get a pretty good idea of what to expect in those four-plus years. One night you’ll have the time of your life without a care in the world, and the next you’ll spend crying into leftover Chinese takeout at 2 a.m. with three assignments left to do before your 9 a.m. It often feels difficult to find a middle ground, or even to keep yourself afloat. But the ability to balance the fun with the endless assignments will get you far, both in college and in your future career. Prepare to find time to relax with that work life balance.
Check out these 21 tips to find zen in your work life balance.
Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Take a deep breath. The more frustrated you grow, the less efficiently you will work. Step back for a moment to refocus before you continue with your work. A quick walk, shower or snack will give your brain, and your nerves, some time to relax, which will help you to work more effectively when you start up again.
2. Identify Any Stressors
Stress can originate from any corner of your life, from school to work to relationships to even just trying to get your laundry done. The first step to dealing with prolonged stress involves identifying what exactly has you bugging. “Addressing the stress factor first will help in improving time management, in achieving goals and maintaining a work/life balance,” said Florida State University Career Liaison Cathy Barrios. You can’t deal with an issue effectively if you don’t know where it comes from, so get to super sleuthing ASAP. Knowing the source of your stress makes it easier to squash.
3. Get Organized
We all experience that sinking feeling of forgetting something, when your sweat runs cold, your hands get clammy and your heart stops beating for a second. Staying organized can prevent that drop of your stomach. Print out your syllabi, buy a planner and actually use it, or make lists – and lots of them, whatever works best for you. These techniques will help clear your head and calm your anxiety as they can help you to create a game plan for your work, although following it may be another story…
Coming into college, students often want to have the full experience, which means getting involved, going to parties, cheering at sporting events and making new friends while maintaining good grades. With all this, we put a lot at stake and even when we want to, we just simply cannot do it all. “A lot of times students feel the pressure to get involved just to get involved and end up spreading themselves too thin with clubs and commitments that aren’t in line with their future goals. Once we prioritize, we end up finding that fewer commitments are actually worth the time and effort,” said FSU Life Coach Jorge Bustamante. Know your passions and academic goals and set your focus on them—parties happen every weekend, but that big paper in your public policy class will only happen once.
5. Maintain a Schedule
No one expects you to have every minute planned out. Setting aside certain times throughout the week to study and dedicating a day a week to some fun, however, can have wonderful effects. If you take a little while to figure out things ahead of time, you’ll end up with a lot more freedom down the line. When you stay realistic and know yourself and your capabilities, you’ll quickly notice positive patterns begin to form. Remember: Stress-relieving activities are just as important as study-time, so make sure to have the time for ice cream at midnight with a close friend, or even to just block off that one hour every Monday night to watch The Bachelor with your floor.
6. Don’t Shy Away from Help
Adjusting to college takes some work, and if students aren’t careful the changes can gather up into an overwhelming ball. Unraveling it on your own sometimes seems impossible, but remember that many other students feel the same way. Your university knows how difficult this transition can be and for that reason provides several resources to tackle it with you—so make sure to use them. “After the pressure finally gets to students, another negative strategy is not reaching out for help. Whether it is study help or stress management, campus has a lot of resources that are there for students,” said Bustamante. The first trip will feel intimidating, but the results overrule any negative connotation you might have with reaching out.
7. Knock Out Procrastination
Procrastination comes in all shapes and sizes: running errands, cleaning, going out with friends, even working on one assignment to avoid another all aid in our avoidance of that one impending task. Recognize when that thought of “I’ll get to it later,” starts playing on repeat in your head and find ways to combat it. Take scheduled breaks from studying, reward yourself after each assignment you complete or even just pause to stretch and take a sip of water every little bit. Breaking down tasks in this way makes the work seem less daunting, preventing your lazy side from encouraging your busy bee to go on strike.
8. Set Goals
What do you want to achieve this week? This month? This semester? Developing short and long-term goals give you something to work towards and keep you motivated. Make sure the goals you set are attainable. If you know you can realistically achieve it, you’ll be more inclined to work towards it. Something simple like “I will finish this assignment two days before the due date” or “I will try something new once a week for a month” will really give you that little push of encouragement. For bigger goals, make sure to break them down. Instead of saying “I’m going to lose 10 pounds in the next two months,” say, “I’m going to try to lose two pounds each week,” or even “I’m going to make sure I go to the gym at least three times a week.” Before you know it, you’ll grow into an avid goal-setter—but more importantly, an avid goal-achiever.
9. Positive Mind, Positive Life
Maintaining happy thoughts and a smile 24/7? In college? The idea seems laughable, but the outcomes of practicing positivity makes the extra effort seem like nothing in comparison. It takes work. You can’t flip a switch to make all your negative thoughts disappear, but it gets easier with time. It may sound silly, but picking a few mantras to repeat to yourself when you find negative thoughts creeping in can help fight them off. Keeping positive can even be as simple as putting sticky notes with cheery quotes on your walls so you can look at them when things get tough. Staying happy constantly is simply impossible, but knowing who and what will remain there for you can make all the difference.
10. Learn to Say “No”
From hook-ups to challenging classes to new clubs, we have a lot on our plates. Don’t do it all. “One of my bosses told me to always give myself one day off a week, and I still try to follow that rule. Six days of the week I’ll be as committed as possible to work, school and friends, but I won’t make any commitments for one day a week so I can use that day however I want,” said Bustamante. Avoid overbooking yourself by learning your limits and sticking with your priorities. Trust me, you need that me-time to spend it however you see fit. Maybe you will spend it out with friends or working on a fun project, but at least you have it open to do what you want.
11. Keep in Contact
Your college BFFs keep you sane in your distress and give you an excuse to go out until 3 a.m. on the weekends (or on a Tuesday), but friends from back home are important, too. The distance gets tough, but maintaining a long-distance relationship with the ones who know you the best prevents homesickness and loneliness. They know how to hype you up and boost your self-confidence, but also how to calm you down when overwhelming feelings take over. Having that virtual shoulder to cry on means just as much as the physical one. Plus, you can gossip to them about that cute kid in your group for a project or that annoying classmate from your sociology lecture, all while knowing the talk will stay between you two because they live miles away.
12. Find a Hobby
We all love to lie around and binge Netflix on our off-days, but despite the seemingly endless options, eventually, you’ll run out of things to watch. Finding at least one extracurricular activity to get involved in, whether it be through school or something around town with friends, allows you to take that breather from all your work. “Writing, reading, listening to music, watching conspiracies on YouTube or just YouTube in general—anything except school work helps me relax after a long day,” said Troy University sophomore Cheyenne Davis.
13. Get Active
Get lit, get fit. If your chosen hobby does not require physical activity, you might want to set aside some time for exercise. No one expects you to become a gym junkie, but something as simple as a 20-minute walk a couple times a week will boost both your physical and mental health. “Since starting college, I’ve begun running a couple miles a day to help clear my mind. It really helps me to not become overwhelmed with my ‘to-do’ list, and to spend some quiet time with myself,” said University of Auburn freshman Carmen McCrackin. When you feel good, you’ll be able to do better, and this will show in everything you do from relationships to schoolwork.
14. Embrace the Bumps
You can compare life to any assorted thing you can conjure up in your mind. A rollercoaster, a road full of potholes, a box of chocolates—the list goes on and on. Finding your balance doesn’t mean the downsides go away. Instead, you learn how to cope with them properly. Besides, what fun would a roller coaster be if it didn’t have those huge hills? In college, your life constantly changes with all the new things you’re dealing with. Learn to roll with the punches and you’ll come out stronger on the other side.
15. Don’t be too Hard on Yourself
Maybe you slacked off in high school and want to be a better student. Or you made straight A’s without even trying and expect to do the same in college. Whatever the case may be, you’ll quickly discover that, when you get to college, you play an entirely different game than you did in high school. Sure, your grades are a top priority, but you should learn to accept when things don’t go your way. Bombing a test or forgetting about an assignment sucks, but as much as it may feel like it, it doesn’t mean the world has ended. Keep that positive attitude and don’t take yourself too seriously.
16. Catch some Z’s
“Sleep is for the weak!” you chant as you pull another all-nighter to finish that paper (or to binge the new season of your latest obsession). There are never enough hours in the day, but cutting back on sleep hurts you more than anything else. It may take some time, but the consequences catch up to you. You’ll see the lack of sleep reflected in falling grades, fights with friends and stress acne. Avoid that zombie feeling by making sure to pencil in some rest into your schedule: your skin, grades and brain will thank you for it.
17. Take Time to Reflect
You know yourself better than anyone else. When trying to find your balance, you must figure out what you currently do to maintain all your responsibilities. What works and what makes everything worse? Maybe you find yourself most relaxed listening to music and drawing, and least relaxed when assignments start piling. You know then that you need to make more time for drawing and you know to work on your organizational skills to avoid having too much work in one night. To discover your best fit, take this time of personal reflection to toss anything toxic in the trash and fill them in with the positives already in your life, from friends to new adventures.
18. Find What Works for You
Once you acknowledge what doesn’t work, you get time to experiment to discover what does. What balance means changes from person to person. A strategy that works for your friends doesn’t guarantee that it will work for you. “Students usually have a thousand things they are thinking about all at once, so any healthy way to clear their mind, even for a few minutes a day, will help them refocus their energy and lower stress. That can be different for different students, ranging from exercise, yoga, making art or exploring a new place. A recommendation I would make for students is to find out what that is for them BEFORE life gets stressful,” said Bustamante. Embrace the challenge and get to searching.
19. Trust the Process
You found a way to cope with stress and maintain a decent schedule. Great! It may work for now, but we constantly grow and change as people. A strategy now might not save the day a few months down the line. What works syllabus week definitely won’t work during midterm or finals week. “It is important to understand that the method to obtaining that work/life balance will change over time and it is a process as goals and priorities change. Achieving a perfect work/life balance for the student is a constant work in progress,” said Barrios. Don’t freak out when going exploring grows more tiring than relaxing. Instead, view it as a new chapter and start reading.
20. Remember That You Come First
As humans, we want to make other humans happy. We aspire to be good friends and respectful students. Although all these things matter, you should never put others needs above your own. You cannot help others if you avoid taking care of yourself. “Students should place themselves at the top of their list by prioritizing self-care before anything else, especially in terms of their overall well-being, their personal goals and ultimate happiness,” said Barrios. Your mental health means more than a grade, and your friends and professors will usually understand. Pay attention to your needs and give yourself the love you deserve—success will follow.
21. Keep an Open Mind
You experience something new almost every day in college. An open mind leads to limitless possibilities and will help you grow as a student and as a person. A willingness to try new things will help you discover ways to balance everything quicker and more effectively. The unknown can terrify you if you let it, or it can be an adventure. You decide.