Almost exactly a year ago my wife and I welcomed our son, our first child, into the world. It’s been a roller coaster of an experience, filled with moments of sheer joy and absolute exhaustion. Having a child has helped me empathize better with college students. Now please hear me out, I am not being paternalistic or patronizing—what I mean is that having a child has reminded me how easy it is to sacrifice taking care of yourself in times of stress and extreme demands.
In my role in the OAR I’m constantly imparting (ok sometimes preaching) the virtues of self-care and balance. However after my child was born many of the things I typically need for balance or taking care of myself suddenly took a backseat to the immediate demands of our newborn and my wife. So many sleep-deprived, frozen pizza and gym-less months later I am realizing I need to be more intentional in prioritizing some more healthy habits and practices in my daily life; however, that’s easier said than done!
As a college student you know that there are a multitude of unexpected events, assignments, and problems that arise during a given semester (or week!) and finding a work-life balance can sometimes seem impossible, especially when it seems there is always work to be done.
In my personal experience and from years working with students I’ve noticed the first thing we sacrifice when it hits the fan is sleep, eating habits, exercise and/or our healthy mental or spiritual practices. This creates a vicious cycle that can be really hard to break. Often we don’t realize how unsustainable or damaging this cycle is until we pause, and realize something doesn’t seem right. Possibly during the break you had one of these moments (I did!). The first step to finding balance is identifying the stressors or any underlining reasons we’re sacrificing what we need to feel whole. Pressure to get the grade? Desire to please a family member, faculty or another person you value and find important. Or does self-care normally take a backseat every semester? Question the legitimacy of that pressure. Is it causing you undue stress? Is there someone you can talk to about it?
Once you have addressed a cause you can begin trying to find a better balance. Here are a few things that have helped me kick the cycle.
Don’t compare yourself to others listen to what you need. Reflect on what gives you energy. Make a list of things you enjoy doing and prioritize doing one or two of them every week of the semester.
Prioritize YOU, even at the expense of other things
How? This can often be the most difficult first step because it involves saying “no”. But it’s OK to say no, you can’t do everything and feeling burnt out is your body’s way of saying, “slow down”. It might be painful to back down from a commitment at first but in the end you will be grateful—trust me. It’s better to do two things with a whole heart than five with a third of your passion. If it’s sleep you need, draw a black line on your schedule and do not study or schedule anything past that line. Maybe your problem-set or essay doesn’t get done but the sleep you gain will help you be more productive in the long run. If it’s finding more time to be social or hit the gym, prioritize those things in your planner before scheduling time to study.
It’s better to do two things with a whole heart than five with a third of your passion.
Balance is different for everyone, we all gain and expend energy in different ways:
What I need to do find balance (listen to music, go for a walk in nature, cook, spend quality time with my wife) is what I need to do, not necessarily what you need to do—everyone is wired differently. Some people need to be alone, maybe, with a comfy chair, a good book or their favorite record. While others need a night out on the town with friends or a good conversation over coffee. Don’t compare yourself to others listen to what you need. Reflect on what gives you energy. Make a list of things you enjoy doing and prioritize doing one or two of them every week of the semester.
Make a plan: Journal your progress
What is your goal? What are the challenges you face? Take time to put your goals in writing. Take time at the end of the day to reflect on what is working or what barriers are keeping you from achieving a better balance, maybe even develop a plan or strategy to attempt tomorrow to address difficulties you experience today.
But it’s OK to say no, you can’t do everything and feeling burnt out is your body’s way of saying, “slow down”.
Accountability: Find a wellness partner!
You are not alone. Ask your fellow Fords, including your professors or Dean, how they balance everything. You might find their still learning too. Feel free to borrow from their good ideas on how they find time for themselves. Find other classmates with similar interests and hobbies and make time to do those things together. Find someone you trust to ask you honest questions or check in on you.
Expect the unexpected
Julia Child, a personal hero of mine, once quipped “Do everything in moderation, including moderation”. The semester is comprised of peaks and valleys and there will be challenges. Some weeks might force you to buckle down, but make sure you follow it up with a break and some fun. Anticipate the unexpected but pace yourself. You can’t and are not expected to do everything. You can’t sprint the whole marathon. An outcome of establishing a work-life balance is knowing when to slow down in order to finish the race and finish strong.
Here is pic of the little guy that threw me off my game… totally worth it!