Maintaining your own mental health can feel like a full time job - especially because it’s something that not a lot of people want to or know how to talk about - particularly in college.
For me, it’s been a journey to figure out what brings me joy and that journey is certainly not over, but I’ve found that my best moments, my most sustainable bouts of happiness and productivity come when I find a balance between 5 things and make sure not to let one of them overshadow everything else:
3. Creative Outlet/Passion Project
4. Social Time
5. Relaxation Time
Take time in your busy schedule to get organized each week. This will help you lower your levels of anxiety later on during the week, and will ultimately set you up for success. That way, you’re more prepared to be resilient when life throws you work that you didn’t expect, and you are less likely to forget important deadlines/details.
Personally, I like to actually write down 30 minutes - 1 hour into my schedule each week to get settled and think about what I have to get done that week. I often even set a timer and hold myself accountable, ensuring that I spend that time planning for the week ahead, but also I don’t just drag out my “organization” time indefinitely to avoid getting the work done altogether.
Some ways to get organized:
2. School & Employment:
When you sit down to do your homework, study, or start a shift at work, make sure that you try your best to fully switch gears and focus completely on the task at hand. This will help you be more productive and efficient with your time, and will ensure that you are not just wasting time. Fun-fact: actual multitasking is biologically impossible - your brain cannot focus on multiple tasks at once, as much as you think it can. In the end, you’re actually just quickly switching from task to task, not allowing yourself to fully commit to something, understand it, and ruminate on it. You are actually pulling your brain in a million different directions, which will keep you from really getting anything done. If you try to split your brain between multiple tasks, you are actually being less efficient. You’ll quickly see your quality of work deteriorate because you are not giving your undivided attention to your work, and are therefore not even giving yourself a chance to do your best work. It will ultimately take you more time to get less done when you keep trying to switch back and forth between tasks/thoughts.
When you are at work or you sit down to do schoolwork/go to class, give your undivided attention to that topic - otherwise, you’re just going to have to spend more time catching up later on what you missed because you were distracted by something else. If you need, you can use your phone to set a timer for every 30 minutes or so. Stay focused for shorter periods of time, and give yourself frequent (timed) breaks to breathe/reset so that you can re-focus afterwards.
3. Creative Outlet/Passion Project
Most of the time, college students get so wrapped up in work that they neglect the things that truly make them happy outside of academics. The importance of hobbies and extracurricular passions is often overlooked: they are often seen as non-essential. In reality, our minds need time to switch gears and focus on tasks that branch beyond classes and technical academics. Find at least an hour or two per week to do something that makes you happy - whether that’s a passion project, exercise/sports, walking in nature, writing, you name it! Reserve this time for something that is productive and active (mentally or physically), and don’t let yourself feel guilty for taking time to yourself (productive could simply mean that it makes you happy - it doesn’t have to be WORK). This is the best way to nurture your own creativity, and develop skills outside of your academic/career pursuits.
4. Social Time
Whether this entails a group of friends or just your 1-2 best friends, human contact and relationships impact our brain chemistry and are important to making us feel valued and loved. Even for introverted people, it is really important to build strong connections with others, because you always want friends or family that you can lean on during the hardest times. Make sure to give yourself time to make memories - during college and beyond. After all, these are the moments that will stick with you the longest, and will impact you more than anything else.
For those that are more extroverted, this can be a very necessary time to relax and just have fun - forget about the stressful deadlines and worries that you have, and just embrace the joy that comes with those you love. Surround yourself with positive people that make you feel good, and challenge you to be a better person. Social time helps you feel fulfilled, and can help fight a lot of negative emotions that come with isolation and loneliness (this is so important, especially as the pandemic continues to make gatherings hard to have).
5. Relaxation time
Lastly, take time to literally do nothing. Don’t feel bad about relaxing and giving your body/brain time to breathe - your worth is not contingent on your ability to live in a state of maximum efficiency and productivity. Instead, find joy and find purpose in the moments that are not directed in your life. It gives you time to be retrospective, take a much needed nap, or just enjoy your favorite TV show. Your brain cannot be productive 100% of the time, and it’s only natural to give yourself a physical, emotional/mental break.
Try to stop yourself from feeling guilty for relaxing (after all, stressing about relaxation is not relaxing at all). After all, if you work hard to find a balance between relaxation and the other points I mentioned earlier on, you should view this time as much needed and rightfully earned. Make sure to limit this time and hold yourself accountable in order to not let relaxation time take over all of your life, but keep in mind that having down-time is completely natural.
Ultimately, finding a balance between these things can help you reshape what it means to be productive. Sustainable productivity/happiness is a balance of all of these things, not just one - and it’s a continual journey. Now, find ways to apply some of these ideas to your daily life - what does balance mean to you?
Sarah is a Consultant and Social Media Marketing Manager on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language and Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.