Back-to-School: 5 Ways to Beat School Stress All Semester Long

School’s back in session! There are new friends to make, or old friends who you have not seen in a while with whom to catch up. There is tinkering with your scheduling to do, dropping and adding classes until the balance is just right. A few weeks into the fall semester, as the dust begins to settle and the stress begins to build, it’s important to establish a routine that will help you feel good, mentally and physically, all semester long.

Here are 5 ways to get into a healthy rhythm:

1. Get enough sleep. If it seems like a good idea to pull an all-nighter studying or to stay up until 3AM hanging out with friends on a regular basis, remember: sleep deprivation is a form of torture. To get enough sleep, you are likely to need to set some boundaries. You might tell yourself that you won’t party (or study) past a certain time or institute a social media curfew.  You might experiment with a nap schedule. If a noisy roommate makes it challenging to sleep, consider trying a smartphone white noise or relaxation app to help you tune out and power down.

2. Create a routine of regular meals and snacks. Do you remember the structure of meals during childhood? Breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, dessert. Well, guess what? There was a reason for this pattern! Eating three meals a day, plus a few snacks, helps you to maintain energy, focus, and weight.

If your college cafeteria has tons more options than your parents ever provided, it can be tempting to overdo it. You might try to picture what a full dinner plate at home looked like and replicate that. Or, you might think of each meal like a restaurant experience. When you go to a restaurant, you’d order one entrée – not multiple. Pay attention to hunger and fullness, and if in need of more food, supplement your meal with dessert. If you are more inclined to underdo it and eat restrictively when not with your family, push yourself by eating more variety – different foods for breakfast each day, for example – regularly finishing meals, and keeping foods you consider “yummy” in the mix.

Remember that if you stay up late at night, you are likely to get hungry again and might need an additional meal or snack. Don’t be hard on yourself about this – it makes total sense that your body would need more fuel. But don’t use the time of day as a reason to let yourself go with your eating, either. Consider stocking up on easy, healthy, and satisfying snacks for your dorm room.

3. Break the workload down into manageable pieces. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your course load, take some time with syllabi and a calendar to plot out when big assignments are due. Consider the big picture and then make it smaller by breaking down your semester workload into weekly goals, and then into a daily to-do list. As your scope becomes smaller, the items on your calendar should reflect more manageable tasks. If you are finding it challenging to break down your assignments or to manage your time, consider getting some help from your college’s academic counseling center.

4. Play smart, not hard. The old adage, “work hard, play hard,” makes for a catchy phrase, but as a lifestyle choice it’s likely to catch up with you. Playing hard – drinking heavily, using other recreational drugs in a regular way, staying out all night – tends to disrupt regular eating, sleeping, and studying routines (1,2, and 3 on this list!). Playing hard usually requires recovery time, which can take you away from quality time with friends or necessary time in classes. Try playing “smart” instead of hard. Intersperse movie nights with party nights. Set some limits for yourself around alcohol and drug use, and surround yourself with people who do the same. Remember to take advantage of your university’s varied social events (concerts, exhibits, talks, festivals).

5. Let your supporters support you! Your parents want to hear how it’s going, to share in your successes and to help guide you when the road gets bumpy. As you move through your college years, parents may do more listening than talking, as you take on the responsibility of taking good care of yourself. Older siblings and other relatives may also be able to offer a helpful perspective. Friends will help you to know that you’re not alone in your struggles; you may benefit from hearing how others in your circumstance are coping and what strategies work best for them.

There are many components to a college education, and it’s no secret that a much of what you’ll remember from those college years will be the life lessons learned outside the classroom. Putting healthy patterns in place now, routines that allow you to manage stress through a balance of hard work and self-care, will serve you well far beyond graduation day.

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