6 ways to manage workload and stress in college

blankTo say that college students are stressed out is like saying the sky is blue or water is wet — it’s hardly a revelation. Everyone knows that college students struggle to balance their social life and their classes, internships, work-study jobs, clubs, and organizations.

Here are six essential tips to help keep you calm and focused as you try to manage stress and school responsibilities.

1. Use a schedule

While this might seem like a given, planning your week in writing can help you wrap your mind around the things you need to accomplish. Sit down each weekend and map out your schedule for the week.

Whether written in a planner or on a digital tool like Google Calendar, a clear visual of the week ahead can give you time to prepare mentally.

Don’t just include your classes and meetings on your calendar. Once you’ve added these time-sensitive commitments, be sure to block off time to work on assignments, study for exams, and dedicate time for yourself and your friends. Treat these calendar blocks as gospel — that hour for dinner each night is just as important for your mental health as going to class is for your grades!

2. Get enough sleep

Sleep is something that definitely needs to be on your schedule. We’ve all pulled the occasional all-nighter to get through a particularly heavy workload, finish a project, or study for an exam. However, doing this repeatedly can have a detrimental effect on your mental health and academic performance.

According to sleep expert Dr. Lawrence Epstein, MD, “After two weeks of sleeping six hours or less a night, students feel as bad and perform as poorly as someone who has gone without sleep for 48 hours. New research also highlights the importance of sleep in learning and memory. Students getting adequate amounts of sleep performed better on memory and motor tasks than did students deprived of sleep.”

This goes for social gatherings, too. While you might be tempted to blow off steam by hanging out into the wee hours, it’s important that you prioritize your sleep.

To make sure you can get the best sleep possible, stop consuming caffeine early enough in the day that it doesn’t impair your ability to fall asleep at night. It’s also worth mentioning that sleep brought on by alcohol or illicit substances isn’t as deep or as restful as natural sleep. Take time at night to catch some natural, much-needed rest.

3. Make time for self-care

Sleep isn’t the only thing that’s important to your health. You should also make time for basic self-care. Ensuring that you take the time to shower, change your clothes, tidy your space, eat a good meal, and do other self-care-focused activities is important to keep your life under control.

When it comes down to it, the few minutes you save by rolling into class in your pajamas aren’t worth the subconscious toll on your mental health. By skipping a shower and breakfast, you’re subliminally telling yourself that taking care of your body isn’t worth the time and that you are your lowest priority.

4. Get up and move

When you’re stressed out and overwhelmed by your college workload, you might need to close your computer, set down your phone, and move around for a while. Exercise is proven to help reduce anxiety and help manage stress.

You don’t have to do a full workout to feel the benefits of some movement. Go for a short walk around the block, stretch, or do yoga for 10 minutes. When you come back to your workload, you’ll feel refreshed and energized and may see things you hadn’t noticed before!

5. Stimulate your brain

While you try to balance your schoolwork, clubs, organizations, and social life, the last thing you want to think about is anything that requires additional brainpower. When you finally have a few minutes to yourself, you probably just want to curl up and binge-watch something on Netflix.

In stressful situations, it’s helpful to lightly stimulate your brain with activities that aren’t related to the source of your stress. Take a few minutes to read a book, do a puzzle, or play online word games with friends.

A mental break that keeps your brain active and sharp can help you focus, relax, and come back to your workload with fresh eyes and renewed energy.

6. Learn to say no

This is probably the most crucial tip to manage your stress and workload in college. College campuses are full of opportunity. Outside of classes and academics, there are hundreds of clubs, charities, events, internships, and social gatherings available. Friends, colleagues, and professors will constantly invite you to take part.

While it’s important to take advantage of the total university experience, you also have to learn one extremely vital skill: how to say no.

If you’re already at capacity in terms of your workload and a friend asks you to help them finish their club’s fundraiser or prepare for an exam, it’s okay to say no.

Suppose, however, that a professor or other mentor offers you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like an internship or apprenticeship when you feel you can’t take on more work. In that case, it’s okay to let go of another club or activity to make time and mental space for something new.

It’s important to remember that as a college student, you’re not supposed to have completely mastered the skills of work-life balance and time management. This is your chance to do so before you advance further in your career and personal life.