3 practical tips to maintain a healthy balance at university

Have you ever felt really overwhelmed by the amount of work you need to do at university? Stressing over completing projects, catching up on lectures, and hours-long exam revision can be very taxing and leave little time for anything non-academic. Believe me, we’ve all been there. Any Imperial student will tell you that balancing studying with taking care of your wellbeing is a tricky matter, especially around intense periods like exam sessions.

I used to think that improving my time management skills will solve my problems, but despite developing practical study skills and working out better organisational techniques, my stress levels didn’t significantly drop. But here I am in my third year, feeling proud of my (by no means perfect) grades and enjoying a well-deserved spring break. How come? It turned out that what I needed is taking better care of my mental health.

Looking back, I’m amazed at how simple things had a tremendously positive effect on my wellbeing, and I’m sure many of you will find it helpful too. The last thing before I move on to sharing my tips – give these techniques a bit of time before you determine whether they’re useful for you. It’s the long-term effect that counts 😊

Tip 1: Sacrificing sleep doesn’t save time

Although staying up late studying or pulling an all-nighter might seem like a good idea, it is often counter-productive as the next day you’re unlikely to force your brain to study, concentrate on your lectures and actively participate in classes. As a result, you might be spending more time studying but ending up getting less done. Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on the mood as well, so if you’re feeling low and struggling with studying effectively, the first thing you might want to check is your sleeping schedule. Get a good night’s sleep – you’ll thank yourself tomorrow.

Tip 2: A break is for relaxing not checking your emails

This one was a huge eye-opener for me. I’ve realised that even when I wasn’t studying a lot, I didn’t feel too rested, and I racked my brains why on earth my mind was still so tired. What I failed to recognise is that in my “breaks” I was checking emails, planning meals, or going over my schedule. No wonder I wasn’t relaxed after that! Now I know that I need to switch off during my rest time and focus on activities that truly recharge my batteries. Not sure what to do? Try to put your phone away, and go for a walk, make a cup of tea, or read a book instead. Remember, time off is to reset your mind, not cross more things from your to-do list.

Tip 3: Worrying too much? Plan it!

Completely eradicating tension and worry at university is unrealistic, but it’s important to keep stress at a reasonable level. I know, it’s easier said than done, so let me give you something concrete. It took me a long time to learn this, but I’ve realised is that the solution doesn’t lie in ignoring these thoughts but taking control of when and how much you worry. The worry time strategy that I learned (credits to a goldmine of wellbeing resources: Silvercloud*) involves setting aside 15 minutes every day during which you write down all your worries and then divide them into two categories: hypothetical and practical. It is crucial to understand that hypothetical worries are scenarios that might not even happen, so in most cases, it’s helpful to try to let them go. For practical worries, on the other hand, you can brainstorm possible solutions and make an action plan. I think this strategy is brilliant – throughout the day I can turn my attention away from my worries as I know I will have time to address them later. If you’re feeling like your worrying is getting out of control, I think introducing worry time in the daily routine could make a huge difference to your stress levels.

*Silvercloud is a self-help platform providing knowledge and resources to deal with anxiety, depression, and perfectionism, to name a few programmes they offer. Imperial students have full access to this tool and I’d fully recommend trying it out.

I hope you found these tips helpful! I really believe there’s nothing more important at university than taking care of your wellbeing, as feeling stable and ready to face new challenges helps you thrive and grow. There are plenty of resources on the Imperial website too – have a look (for example here) if you want more support and information about how to deal with academic or personal struggles you might be going through.

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