For many, going back to college or university every September can be a scary process. We worry about getting good enough grades, fitting in, making friends, balancing work and school, and so much more! Life for students is a stressful one, and we are hoping we can give you some tips before the school year starts to help you cope this semester.
When I was in school, I always found it difficult to balance school and work. No one is on the same schedule, and you’re supposed to be having the time of your life, while somehow also getting good grades and building your future. This can seem like an impossibility.
The social aspect of going to school can be difficult enough on its own, but for those individuals who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, this can be extra scary. Worrying about prejudice, coming out, being outed by others, and not fitting in are real concerns that can often weigh us down.
So, how can you make sure you stay sane, functional, and happy this semester? The answer isn’t a simple one, but these tips might help!
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it easily slips away when we’re overwhelmed. Whether you’re in school or in the working world, we tend to live for the weekend, our vacations, reading week, or the summer. While it’s great to have things to look forward to, this can often lead to a cycle of overdoing it, relaxing, then getting right back to negative or destructive habits.
Think about it: when you’re in school, you have classes, school work, friends, and work. In the summer, likely your schedule is a little more consistent and there’s less pressure to perform without school work looming over you. It’s easier during the summer to work in self-care activities and time with friends. During school, it might be easier to just cram in all work and no play (and we all know how that turns out!)
While we may not be able to do anything about the timelines of our lives, what we can do is try to sneak in some regularity and balance. Even if your schedule is all over the place, try to keep some things consistent, such as the time you wake up in the morning, or having a routine every day (even if it’s done at different times during the day). Something like getting in a 20-minute workout or talking to your BFF on the phone every day.
While this can seem like even more work in the beginning, it will pay off in the end. Later on, we will give you some tips on how you can balance out your days and weeks in a way that will work for you.
Surround yourself with positive people
This is so so so important for every stage of your life – not just as a student. We don’t have control over everyone we interact with, and sometimes we have to deal with family members and peers that don’t make us feel so great. This makes it so important to ensure you have a good group that you can go to when you need to.
Make a point to schedule time with family or friends that lift you up. Those people who you feel you can be your authentic self with, without judgement. People you have fun with, who love you and care about your well-being.
If you’re not sure you have many of these people in your life, I know it can be daunting to put yourself out there to find them. Being a student comes with anxiety over fitting in, but there’s also a huge opportunity to make new friends. Most schools have clubs for different interests and even identities, including gay-straight alliances, dungeons and dragons clubs, and clubs specific to your major.
While it can provoke some of your anxiety to put yourself out there and meet new people, it’s impossible to make strong connections if we don’t. Remember that your anxiety is temporary and that you can get through it!
Find safe places
This relates to my last point – clubs and groups within your school can provide great safe places for you to be yourself and express who you are or what your interests might be. Aside from these places, however, it’s important to have other places we can go to feel safe and secure.
These types of places can be as simple as your dorm room, or your room at home if you’re living at home while going to school. Maybe you find a park, library, or café near campus that you can go to sit and think or work on school work.
Take some time to explore your environment and see what speaks to you. You may be surprised at what you find! When I was in school, I found a café that was a little bit further from other spots and was often less busy, and it became my go-to. I’d go and have some tea and a bite to eat, put my headphones in, and get some work done.
Take care of yourself
Another no-brainer, I know! But again, something we often lose sight of. How do you take care of yourself when you’re so busy with assignments and trying to make money that you feel like you can’t even breathe?? It’s in the little things. Those things that we normally just do without thinking, that we completely neglect when we’re stressed.
Did you eat today? When was the last time you drank water? When did you last take deep, purposeful breaths? Have you been outside recently?
Sometimes these small things make the biggest difference. Take an extra 10 minutes in the morning to make a lunch with some healthy snacks to make sure you eat throughout the day. Carry a water bottle around with you to stay hydrated. Go for a 5-minute walk between classes. Check in with friends and family, and check in with yourself to see what you need.
Mindfulness can be a really helpful tool for when we don’t have time for bubble baths and manicures!
Plan, plan, plan
I’m sure that planning something else, or having to do more thinking, is the last thing that you want to do right now. However, scheduling your activities – even your leisure activities- can be extremely helpful. We’re much more likely to engage in an activity if we actually commit to it and write it down. So we can often accomplish each of the items above by implementing some planning.
Balance can be achieved by writing out your schedule (or looking at it on a computer) and planning leisure, exercise, and social activities in a way that makes sense. For example, if you want to work out 4 times per week, and Tuesdays you have school and work for almost 13 hours of the day – that’s probably not a day you want to schedule your workout for. Instead, maybe you commit to ensuring that you eat properly and spend some time alone on Tuesdays so you can rest and recuperate.
Writing things out might help you decide which commitments you want to take on as well. If you have a few clubs in mind that you want to join, maybe you balance it out by only joining the ones that aren’t going to be at times that will extend your day by an unreasonable amount. Similarly, you may choose to skip out on a social engagement if it means too much running around. It’s okay to say no! To others, and to yourself at times.
We know how tough it is to be a student – we were there at one time and had our struggles as well. We know that you can get through it, as we did! You’ve got this! Keep your head up, be confident in yourself, and keep moving forward.
RP, MACP, CPT, FNS