Balancing personal health with college workload

Nearly every student can relate to the sacrifice of their hobbies, physical health, mental health or social life in an effort to manage the workload of college which, especially at this time of the year, can be overwhelming.

Rather than admit that they are struggling and ask for help, many students try to uphold some sense of control by forcing smiles and pretending that they’ve “got this.” Often students compete with classmates for who got the least amount of sleep or who has the most exams in the upcoming week.

Sacrifices are a big part of college life. We have all seen the “choose two” triangle graphic with good grades, social life and sleep at its points – but once you add health, relationships, research projects, family responsibilities, résumé builders, internships and food, the polygon that results is nearly impossible to juggle. The “choose two” directions often morph into “try your best at all of them until you feel too stressed to cope.” The fact that many students have to work to afford the exhorbitant costs of higher education, and that many are also on sports teams, only complicates the problem.

This is an unfortunate fact of life some of the time, but it is important to recognize that even in these moments of ultimate stress, your mind and body are the most important. They have to push you through the moments of panic, and keep you going for many years beyond what now seems like forever.

And while pushing one-self every once in a while to finish a paper or study for an exam is simply a part of the college experience and an aspect of hard work, doing this all the time or relying on stimulants to push you through your day-to-day is a slippery slope.

If you feel, as a student, that there is absolutely no room in your schedule for sleep at all, you need to reorganize. It can feel like every responsibility you have is the most important – but prioritizing your duties, or even daily to-do lists, can help you realize that not everything is as urgent as it seems. If you feel overloaded, honestly rank your responsibilities from most important to least, considering things like grades, rewards, time and personal enjoyment. If you can afford to, let go of the last one, two or three things on your list, either just for the day, the week or longer.

Be honest with your professors. If you are struggling in a class or with specific material, let them know. Visit their office hours and tell them exactly what you do not understand. Students can be hesitant to admit that they are struggling because they do not want to seem less intelligent or less capable, but the truth is that your professors’ perceptions of you are not you and, honestly, your professors are more likely to find you inquisitive, involved and proactive anyway if you ask for help.

If you are struggling with a serious mental health issue, like anxiety or depression, there are outlets for you. Talking to a trusted faculty member or other adult can be a huge help, but there are also more anonymous options. Campus counseling services are always available if you cannot afford off-campus counseling.

Your mind and your body are essential to your productivity and overall success as a student. If you allow yourself to value trivial things today over things that will exist forever, you will see the negative effects in the future.

Once you graduate college and move on in your career or graduate studies, little things like a single grade on a test or a single game or event will not matter to you. What will matter is that you have a healthy mind and body that you have taken care of and that will take care of you.

Though we live in an extremely fast-paced world that often convinces us that we are only worth what we produce, it is important to take steps back and realize that we are not simply the sum of our parts. As college students (and humans) we are complex, bright people with more opportunities and options than many others.

Check in with yourself, and make sure you are not confusing what cannot be changed with what you can take care of now.

By Gwyneth Navey