Balance

by Lindsay Howard

As college students, we are expected to be everything to everybody. We must have good grades, a long list of campus involvement, a healthy lifestyle, an active social life, and maybe even some beauty sleep. It's time we realize though that we cannot be successful in our college careers without finding balance in the other parts of our lives throughout the semester. We are in college to get a degree and become successful in our careers, but we are also here to learn and grow as human beings, developing habits and ideas that follow us through the rest of our lives. Although it can be hard to see at this point, developing a system of balance will lead to the success we all strive for. Living a balanced lifestyle leads to a more productive and happy life, hopefully one that is guilt-free and full of joy. Becoming a whole, well rounded person in college is challenging at times with the insane schedule most people have. In order to find the well-roundedness most people strive for, a personal system of balance must be struck.

In making time for all that is expected of a college student, sleep is often times the first thing to get booted. However, Harvard studies show that this proves to be counterproductive in the quest for learning and retaining information. A 2007 study reported that just 11% of college students slept well and only 40% felt rested at least two days a week. Unsurprisingly, college students were the most sleep-deprived segment of our population. However, a lack of sleep leaves the brain hopelessly grasping for a way to retain information.

There are three basic principles of learning. Acquisition (the brain receiving information), consolidation (the brain making connections), and recall (accessing the information). Studies have found that an inadequate amount of sleep negatively affects all three of these learning processes. Not only this, but not sleeping also makes it more difficult to concentrate and can reduce the ability to consolidate recently formed memories. I know pulling an all nighter to stuff information into our memories can seem like an attractive idea, however, our brains literally cannot work in overdrive to recall the information for the test or quiz we need it for without proper sleep. The act of not sleeping in favor or studying is counterproductive to our bodies and brains. Really take the time to see if not sleeping is worth it. It may harm you more than hurt you in the long run if you’re not careful. Sleep-deprivation is an epidemic among college students. Next time you want to pull an all nighter, think about what it does to your learning capabilities and decide if it really is for the better.

Right after sleep, relaxing and taking time for yourself is the next slice of life on the chopping block. However, in order to maintain productivity (and your sanity) it is of utmost importance to take some time to relax and recover. A warm bath, yoga class, or even some time to catch up on your favorite Netflix show is of utmost importance during busy seasons of life. All aspects of life are connected. Taking time for yourself releases positive endorphins, and we want ALL of those we can get. This reduces your stress level and not only might help you feel better in the moment, but it can increase your long term health. Taking time to slow down for a moment reduces chances of getting sick, and even protects your heart and brain from possibly fatal long term effects. We live in a world of constant stimulation and the “hustle” mentality. While that is all well and good, if we aren’t careful we may get literally run into the ground. If you’re anything like me, your “me time” may need to be scheduled in a planner with the rest of your activities, and that is okay. While taking a second to relax may seem like a bad idea with all on your to-do list, making that time is important to your health, and subsequently your exam grade as well.

Simply put: don’t forget to eat. In order to fuel yourself for those long study sessions and tests, it is imperative you are remembering to feed yourself. I know it can be hard to remember to eat when grades seem like the most important thing at the time, but despite how important grades are, it is equally important that your body is able to move forward, which will comes from the energy of food. With that being said it is always easiest to stop by a fast food restaurant for some fries and a burger, but before you reach for the milkshake as a snack, maybe consider a healthier option. Although treating yourself to unhealthy foods is so important in daily life, when a week such as dead week or finals week comes along your body needs the nutrients from fruits and veggies to sustain the long days you are putting it through. Not only this, but eating well makes you smarter, so to speak. The Rush Institute for Healthy Aging came up with research finding that lots of saturated and trans fats from fried and processed foods reduces cognitive abilities. Making the healthier option from foods such as fish, nuts, and avocados gives your body a high intake of omega 3s, making your brain function better. These sorts of foods can be hard to find on campus. Taking an extra hour to meal prep and pack snacks for the week on Sunday night assures you will have some healthy food to get you through this stressful time. Don’t forget to eat, and eat well. Fuel your body with nutritious and happy foods and your mind (and grades) will thank you for it.

The life of a college student can be a constant balancing act among all of the things expected of us. Particularly during dead week and finals week, the responsibilities and expectations pile up and seem to take over our lives. However, even during these weeks it is important to find balance in life in everything we do, particularly taking time to sleep, relax, and remembering to eat. Making great grades is the first priority during this time, however, it is still imperative we take the time to continue to balance our lives and treat our bodies right. Keeping a well-rounded schedule during hard weeks will not only benefit you in college, but for the rest of your life. Sleep well, eat well, and take a moment to read a book or take a yoga class. Study hard, and rest up!  

Lindsay Howard