Striking a Balance: Maintaining Physical and Mental Health in the Midst of Chaos

Photo courtesy of this blog. By Brittany Dingler, '15

The temptation to give up healthy habits in times of stress and chaos is tempting and dangerously easy. Swapping sit-down meals for Clif bars and coffee on-the-go? Substituting your Tuesday/Thursday workout routine for longer hours at the library? You may be in need of some balance.

Difficult as it may be to maintain balance during weeks overloaded with exams, projects, or rehearsals, we are likely hurting ourselves by skipping out on those aspects of our lives that we suddenly find optional such as meals, workouts, and adequate sleep. Yet, to be fair, some of us may feel guilty if we’re able to walk straight and see clearly at the end of the week—as though we didn’t try hard enough. So how do we keep our balance while working hard?

There are some obvious adjustments that can be made. Eat well (and sit down while doing it), stay active, sleep six to eight hours a night (more if you can get away with it), stay connected to friends and family, and of course stay on top of work. Everyone knows these tangible components of balance for a typical college student, but what I offer are a few ways to strengthen the balance. I believe that the following tips will enable you to maintain core activities while also fully experiencing and enjoying them. Incorporate small positive boosts throughout your day through mindfulness, gratitude, and purpose. To wit, be present with what you’re doing, cognizant of why you’re doing it, and thankful for the opportunity to do it.

These positivity boosts help increase energy levels and feelings of well-being, which help invigorate all other aspects of life that you want to keep. For example, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center asserts that 40 percent of our happiness derives from our daily activities—we can therefore infer that if we go through each day resenting classes, assignments, and meetings, we won’t gain too much from our hard work. Furthermore, UC Berkeley found that gratitude improves our sleep and immune system while mindfulness molds our brain for a more positive, focused presence throughout each day. Purpose motivates us even in the more difficult aspects of our day, and can be strengthened by taking a few moments each day to remind ourselves why we’re at Skidmore, why we’re in our chosen classes and clubs, and what we ultimately hope to accomplish as a result of our hard work.

The invigoration provided by mindfulness, gratitude, and purpose then enables us to thrive during lighter weeks and stay healthy and successful during weeks where we may start to feel stretched. Here are some examples of some positive self-talk that could be used to foster these positive boosts: Each test? A challenge. Each assignment? Opportunity for growth. Presentation or recital? Your chance to show your class or community what you’ve learned. Reshaping thoughts helps to reshape performance and, in return, feelings about that performance. These skills, if developed now, will continue to reward us throughout life as our daily schedules become increasingly busy and unpredictable, especially in the eventual absence of Skidmore’s structure. If we can master this balance we can match rising challenges without sacrificing our wellbeing and as a result achieve higher success.

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