By: PLA Drew Moore
8:30am class, 10:30am group meeting, 12:00pm lunch with a friend, 1:30pm Learning Strategies workshop, 2:30pm lab, 4:00pm thesis work, 5:00pm dinner, 6:00pm thesis work, 7:00pm-10:00pm rehearsal, 10:00pm other course work, 11:30pm bed. Repeat as necessary.
This schedule may seem intense, but as a fourth year student completing an honours thesis in biology, acting in a musical, volunteering as a Peer Learning Assistant, preparing for graduate school in the fall, and attempting to maintain a social life, it’s just another day. I am often asked ‘How do you it?’ or ‘How do you participate in so much without dying of stress?’.
Sometimes I don’t know how I do it, and often times wonder if my sanity is just an illusion (my housemates would probably second the latter part of this sentence). This blog is my attempt to share my experiences and help others juggle the craze that is university life. Sure there are frustrating moments, plenty of stress, and sometimes minor breakdowns, but if you can make your way through university without any of these feelings, you deserve a gold medal, or a Tony award, or the Stanley Cup, or (insert your favourite award/designation/championship here). In this blog I hope to explain how I maintain my sanity on a daily basis, complete my academic work, and still have free time to spend with my friends. I will give you a clue…it’s all about doing things you love, planning your time well, and being an effective de-stresser!
1. Get involved in activities that you enjoy!
My first tip is probably the most important of those I will share with you, and I can’t stress it enough (perhaps all capital letters would’ve been appropriate for the heading?). When you are thinking about activities you would like to be apart of here at Queen’s, do things you enjoy! If you like what you are doing you will be a more excited, more dedicated, less stressed person and feel better about how you are spending your time. For me, after a long day of sitting through biology lectures and reading journal articles about birds to reference in my thesis, I cannot wait to get to rehearsal for Queen’s Musical Theatre’s production of City of Angels (playing April 7th-16th in the Rotunda theatre on Queen’s University campus, tickets available at Tricolour Outlet….sorry for the shameless plug). Personally I find there is no better stress reliever than playing a singing and dancing private detective who solves mysteries and gets in trouble. Getting a chance to act excited, angry, frustrated, mysterious and (okay I will say it) sexy, all in a short period of time is incredibly liberating, not to mention the feeling of getting to sing my heart out. The feeling of relaxation, exhaustion, comfort, and overall peace that I feel following a rehearsal is, I would like to think, comparable to the feeling after a great workout (although I visit the gym so infrequently that this could be wildly misleading), and helps me focus and get down to work when I return home. There truly is nothing like leaving it all on the stage to help you relieve stress, allow you to focus on your work, and realize you don’t have it too bad (considering I get shot and beat up on a nightly basis in the play)…but I digress. The message I am trying to get across here is that if you get involved in activities that you enjoy and that don’t feel like work, not only will you be happier, but you will need to reserve less time in your schedule for ‘de-stressing’ as this will already be done for you.
2. Plan your time effectively, and STICK TO IT!
The second most important tip to maintain your sanity seems pretty intuitive, but planning makes perfect in my world. Without the calendar on my computer (which recently replaced my paper agenda) I would be completely lost. For me, knowing what I need to accomplish, when I need to accomplish it, and how much time I have to do it, is key.
This starts on Sunday night with a simple to-do list. Initially I list everything that I need to accomplish during the upcoming week, including schoolwork, extra-curricular responsibilities, etc. The next step is determining how long I will need to complete each task, making sure to set achievable goals and not underestimating the amount of time a task will take. Finally I schedule time for each task around my preset schedule of classes, rehearsals, and breaks (meals, wind-down time before bed, etc.), and I’m done. Not only does this help me keep my week organized and allow me to ensure I’m getting everything done that I need to, it also helps me sleep better on Sunday nights! Finally the most important thing about creating a schedule….STICK TO IT! There is no point in spending time dividing your week if you aren’t going to stick to it. Of course things will come up that you can’t plan for, and time will need to be shifted, but do your best to stay on track. Not only will you be amazed at the amount of time you have during the week, but also the number of things you can get done!
3. Discover your most effective ways to de-stress.
This tip is for those times when you have done your best to keep you stress level at a minimum, but somehow it creeps up on you. When this happens to me (usually during the early stages of working on a difficult assignment or after an extremely long day), I find the most effective way for me to deal with it is to pull out one of my ‘super stress relievers’. I define a stress-reliever as an activity that clears your mind, brings you joy, allows you to refocus, and puts things in perspective. These activities will be different for everyone and it will take some time to determine what yours are. Mine all surround music, singing and getting to express myself.
When I begin to feel stressed I pull out my guitar or sing along to my favourite musical theatre songs (one of my old favourites to belt out in my room is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zX1oa9maIAM. Yes I know it’s a duet for two women, but it’s still a great song!) . These activities allow me to forget the stress for a few moments, and allow me to clear my mind. When I return to my work I find that I feel less stressed, more focused, and relaxed, allowing me to have a productive work session. However, the key to these stress-relievers is that they are most effective in ‘sessions’. Set a time limit for these activities after which you return to your work. 10 minutes works well for me. It’s enough time to allow myself to relax, but not too long that I become focused on that activity and fail to return to my work. As I said before, find what works for you! Maybe your 10 minutes of de-stress will include a few funny videos on Youtube, or going for a run. Find something and stick to it, you will be amazed at how much more work you can get done when you are not in a stressed frame of mind!
Well there you have it, my top three tips to maintaining your sanity in university life, and staying involved. It’s worked for me, and I hope at least parts of it can work for you. Remember the key to staying sane is doing things you enjoy (they will act as de-stressers), planning your time wisely (and sticking to it!), and finding a few personal de-stressers that you can use to refocus when times get tough (music is a great one).
Reflecting back on my four years at Queen’s I realize now that it has taken me all four years to achieve the correct balance between academics, extra-curriculars and social activities, that works for me. Don’t forget that this balance is different for everyone and that it’s not going to be something that you can learn over night. You will have successes, you will have failures (learn from them, don’t beat yourself up), but most importantly you will have a lot of fun. Your four years go by way too quickly, so don’t waste them! Take time to reflect, learn from your mistakes, and get involved, you may be happy you did.