As summer neared its end, I looked at the new school year with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I knew that my senior year would come with new responsibilities: finding a permanent job after graduation, assuming a leadership role in the activities I was involved in and completing my senior thesis.
Regardless, I felt an overwhelming excitement when I thought about reconnecting with people and competing with the women’s tennis team on campus. I thought that the transition to campus life and in-person classes would be close to seamless — but when I arrived on campus, I was faced with a different reality, and I know others experienced similar challenges.
Even though students were excited about in-person classes, the majority of students were most eager to engage in the 5C social scene. The current juniors and seniors only sampled the 5C experience, so many were anxious to reunite with their peers and re-immerse themselves in on-campus activities. The sophomores, who started their college experience virtually, were in a similar social and academic position as the freshmen but were beginning their second year in college. For upperclassmen and sophomores, the new school year is an opportunity to make up for lost time, and for freshmen, this year is the beginning of their college career.
But in some respects, the return to in-person classes makes balancing a social life and high academic standing more difficult to achieve: Students are unable to attend class from the comfort of their bed, have timed and closed-note exams and need to stick to more rigid schedules. For all students, but especially the sophomores and freshmen, who didn’t have the full academic experience until this year, this rigidity in daily schedules is taking extra adjustment.
This year more than ever, FOMO (fear of missing out) is making it difficult for students to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
During the first month, I had more difficulty readjusting to campus life than I anticipated, overwhelmed by the pressure to reconnect with peers and to succeed academically. However, I eventually realized that I needed to prioritize my mental well-being in order to maximize productivity and the time I spent with my friends.
I made some adjustments to my lifestyle after one particularly difficult week, and since then, I’ve been less stressed and more satisfied with the quality of my schoolwork. These are several methods I find are helpful for managing my work and social life.
Use a planner and/or calendar
This might seem basic, but it is underutilized and makes a significant difference. I find that writing out assignment deadlines, exam dates and social events with friends on my Moleskine planner, Google Calendar and Notion help me avoid overcommitting myself. I almost always have Google Calendar notifications reminding me about events on my schedule and set small goals for long-term assignments to reduce cramming-induced stress.
Respond instead of react — and say “no”
Even if students have impending academic deadlines, they may prioritize social events for fear of missing out on a memorable moment with their friends. Students who turn down social opportunities for academic reasons are sometimes judged for not being “fun” — but this shouldn’t be the case.
When I’m invited to a social event, I avoid responding immediately if possible. In the moment, I might minimize my other responsibilities to rationalize my decision to attend the event, but if I give myself time to review my schedule, I am less likely to make a decision I regret.
Allot time to be alone
When students do have free time and no impending deadlines, they feel pressure to fill it with friends. The past year and a half of being isolated from others adds to this pressure, but everyone needs time alone to recharge their social battery. It’s harder for people to dedicate their full attention to those they care about if they’re running on fumes.
More benefits to solitude include increased creativity and mental well-being. Solitude allows our thoughts to unravel and gives us the opportunity to focus on ourselves rather than those around us, encouraging personal growth and reducing judgment towards others.
I enjoy having time to myself, and I typically recharge by reading, scrolling through TikTok, watching TV or walking. Sometimes, I drive to a coffee shop (RIP the Motley), grab a meal alone or nap.
As finals and thesis season loom ahead, time management will become even more important. It’s equally important to be forgiving with ourselves and others as we struggle to balance our academics, social life and mental health together.
Sydney Lee CM ’22 is TSL’s health and wellness columnist. She’s a psychology and media studies dual major and likes hiking, coffee, and the Oxford comma.