The fall term of the school year is a busy one for not only staff and instructors, but also for the undergraduate students on campus. This is especially true for students that are starting university for the first time or students who have transferred from another university or program. Many adjustments need to be made in one’s life when entering a new school year, like how students can spend their time and the work demands that are placed upon them as the semester unfolds. So how do students go about managing all of these different deadlines, extracurricular activities and other aspects of their lives? Well, the key to this is to constantly work towards overall wellness. This encompasses both the physical and emotional parts of self-care, renewal and management.
As a Residence Life Don, my position with the university has a similar goal to that of a professor or instructor, as we are both striving to teach students new skills and ways to prepare for their future endeavours. One of the main things that makes us different, however, is that my time spent with them and my area of knowledge and resources is generally during the time that they aren’t spending in the classroom. So what does this mean? This means that I’ve seen several students struggle with the balance between different aspects of their lives, such as maintaining good grades as well as making new friends, or trying to get involved with extracurricular activities but still being able to get enough sleep. I will admit, however, that most of my advice and knowledge comes from experience. As an upper year student who has learned (and is continuing to learn) how to best manage a full course load, co-op applications, part-time jobs, and a long list of extracurricular activities, I have become passionate about helping first-year students learn from my own experiences, failures, and successes. So, here are my top 10 tips for maintaining a healthy, balanced, lifestyle throughout an undergraduate degree:
- Make exercise a priority. Adults are recommended to have two and a half hours of moderate to intense aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activities per week (World Health Organization, 2010)! For those that don’t have a lot of experience with exercise, this may seem daunting, however the university provides many opportunities to make physical activity a convenient and fun process. At the University of Waterloo, students have the opportunity to try a wide variety of fitness classes by buying a “Shoe Tag”, which allows them to attend any class offered that fits their scheduling needs. There are also three gym and recreational facilities, with one of them located right in our very own Ron Eydt Village (REV) residence!
- Try to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep. Sometimes this can be hard with lengthy assignments, midterms and exams to prepare for, but getting enough sleep is actually really beneficial to improving your grades and allowing you to focus during lectures (Moore, 2008).
- It’s okay to slow down. This is especially true for when you are sick and/or recovering from an illness. Your body often needs time to recover and heal, and by continuing to push yourself through this time, you can do more harm than good. Sometimes there are commitments in your life that are fixed, such as assignments, work, and other responsibilities, but if you do your best to minimize other activities and take time to rest, your body will thank you.
- Set aside time for yourself. This could be done in a variety of ways, depending on whatever activities you do that make you happy or help you to recharge. As for myself, I spend time doing something relaxing or working on a hobby that I enjoy, like walking my dogs or updating my blog. This step is easily overlooked even though it is one of the most important.
- Learn how to say “no”. One of the hardest things I had to overcome during my first two years of undergraduate studies was learning that it’s impossible to do everything. Of course, getting involved is an amazing part of the university experience, but it’s important to have a realistic approach to what you can handle during your busy class schedule. In addition to that, don’t be afraid to lessen or increase the amount you take on during your years in school.
- Be open to talking with someone. When times become stressful or difficult, it is important to be open to sharing your feelings and concerns with someone else. This could be a counsellor, a friend, a Don, or another trusted individual that will be a listening ear. Even just having someone to listen to you can help calm stressful feelings.
- Be someone for others to talk to! Relating to my previous tip, why not be a friend to someone else in times of need? Even if you feel like you don’t know what to say, sometimes people just want someone to listen to them to feel better. Besides, it always helps to know that you are not alone in your struggles.
- Find a mentor. A mentor is someone that you can look up to and gain insights from his or her life. No, this does not mean that you will find a “perfect” person, however, someone who is more experienced in life or who has traits that you admire can often provide useful guidance or words of wisdom. For example, if you know someone who has great stress or time management skills, this would be an excellent person to ask for advice when you are having trouble managing those areas in your own life. Many of the faculties at UWaterloo offer different mentorship programs so that first year students can learn from upper-year students.
- Learn management skills. This could mean learning how to manage time, stress, academics, or whatever is affecting your mental health. How does one go about doing this? Well, this could involve many of the above steps, such as reaching out and talking to someone, focusing on your physical well-being, or learning more about different management strategies. There are several different workshops and services on campus that can help students develop strategies for success, such as the Student Success Office (SSO) and Counselling Services.
- Develop a plan! Now that you know about different resources and options available to helping create a balanced lifestyle, it’s time to act on it! Create new habits that point towards a healthier lifestyle. Even slow, small changes can make a huge difference!
So there you have it – those are my top 10 tips for helping to create balance and finding wellness during the journey of pursuing an undergraduate degree. Hopefully this helps anyone reading this in any way that is beneficial to them – whether that be trying out my tips or offering some new knowledge to a friend. If you have any additional tips or comments about what I’ve said, leave a comment for me and for the readers – we’d love to hear what you have to say!
Photo taken by Natasha Knier, October 2015.
Moore, M., & Meltzer, L. (2008). The sleepy adolescent: Causes and consequences of sleepiness in teens. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 9(2), 114-121. Retrieved November 13, 2015, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1526054208000031
World Health Organization. (2010). Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Geneva, World Health Organization