Prioritizing Mental Health During a Busy Semester

The semester is well underway and it’s easy to feel like the balance between schoolwork, your social life, and your personal life is already becoming lopsided. Not only is it hard to transition back to school in a regular year, but this year we’re also adjusting to being back to in-person classes and activities. While the return of these in-person elements is exciting, it can make it especially difficult to manage your time well. Here are a few suggestions for ways to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself mentally in this new and exciting semester.

  1. Set boundaries.

If you’re anything like me, setting boundaries is very hard! It’s so much easier to say yes to everything than it is to say no to one thing. And now that so many opportunities are open to us again the temptation to say yes to everything is very strong. But if there’s anything that college has taught me so far, it’s that I have to set academic and social boundaries. By academic boundaries I mean deciding early in the day or early in the week when you will stop doing school work each day. This prevents me from using every available amount of time to do work. It builds in a break into my schedule where I can rest without feeling unproductive or guilty for taking a break. These breaks are much needed! 

An example of a social boundary is deciding early in the week how much time you have for social activities. For example, I know that with my schedule I have time to intentionally hang out with two people per week. So Sunday night I text some of my friends and make a plan for the week. This helps me make sure I’m spending time with the people I care about and it also leaves room for spontaneity if I’ve gotten enough work done, or am feeling rested enough to do more.

2. Get outside and get active.

Sunshine really makes such a difference in how we feel throughout the day and so does moving our bodies. Most of us probably spend the majority of our day sitting, whether we’re in class or in the library studying. And while this is necessary at times, it can often leave us feeling passive and unmotivated. But going outside and walking around or playing a game of frisbee with friends can lift our spirits almost instantly. Our bodies and brains are so intricately connected that neglecting the body can make the mind feel groggy and off. Make sure you give your brain the support it needs by staying active in some form!

3. Invest in a calendar.

I’ve lived out of my calendar for as long as I can remember and it’s always shocking to me when people tell me that they’ve never used one before. Everybody has their way of staying organized, but I’d highly recommend using some sort of calendar to keep track of upcoming due dates, big assignments and social activities. Doing so can help you feel much more organized and on top of things. I use a paper calendar that allows me to plan out my week, but that also has a month-by-month view so that I can see what’s coming up later. I usually write down social activities and weekly assignments in the week-by-week section, highlighting due dates in one color and tests in another. I only use the monthly calendar for big events, like trips with friends and family. Another way that you can use a monthly calendar is by writing out all of your big assignments for the month. This helps keep you aware of the big due dates and plan accordingly, while just doing smaller assignments as they come. 

Google Calendar is also a great, free tool. I put all of my classes and weekly events in my Google Calendar so that I can see how much free time I have each day to do work or spend time with people. Feeling unorganized can lead to a lot of stress and guilt for forgetting things. Using a calendar can help prevent these negative feelings from happening!

4. Pay attention to how you’re feeling.

There are many other suggestions that I could make about prioritizing your mental health during a busy season, but they don’t mean much if you don’t know how to listen to how you’re feeling. Sometimes it’s easy to ignore the tired and anxious feelings that we have and write them off as normal. At times it is normal, we’ve stayed up too late and we’re tired or something big is happening that day and we feel slightly anxious. But many times these negative feelings are indicators to our brains that we need to stop and evaluate what’s going on. Take the time to stop and ask yourself how you’re actually doing. Don’t try and rush through everything just to get to the next task or event. Eventually, those negative thoughts and feelings will build up and it will be very difficult to work through them. One way that I do this practically is by taking time once a week to journal and reflect on everything that happened in the previous week. This practice helps me get my brain back on track and keep it healthy. There are also plenty of online meditation and reflection tools, like the apps Calm and Routines, that will walk you through questions to help you figure out how you’re actually doing because sometimes that awareness is half the battle.

Best of luck to everyone this semester! You got this, you are capable and you’re going to do great, just make sure to take care of yourself along the way!

Written by: Jordan Sims

9/10/21

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