Self Help-First Semester

Staying Healthy and Creating Balance Your First Semester

Betty Milburn
Student Counseling Service

Your first semester at A&M you will be pulled in many different directions, and you will probably feel like there simply isn't enough time to do everything you need to do and want to do. Certainly there will be academic demands that are more challenging than any you have yet experienced. But there will also be pulls on your time from the organization(s) you join, from friends you are making, from campus activities such as football games, concerts, and lectures, not to mention all of the laundry, shopping, cleaning and other "daily upkeep" activities that you will be taking on. When time is short and demands are many, sometimes the first things to go are sleep, exercise, healthy meals, and time for you. This response to feeling overwhelmed and overloaded actually creates more problems in the long run even though it may seem to be helping at the time.

Why? Because adequate sleep, exercise, healthy fuel for your body, and time for you form the foundation necessary for dealing with stress and creating a balanced lifestyle. When you are stressed over an extended period of time, the immune system is negatively impacted, which means that you get sick more easily. If you add sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, a junk food diet, and no time for you to the equation, you are even more likely to get sick, especially when stress is highest such as at mid-term and right before finals. Also, emotional coping skills are negatively impacted during prolonged periods of stress, and coping becomes more difficult when the foundation is weakened through neglect.

Creating balance in life means that you value and place importance on all the different pieces of your life that come together to create the actual whole of your life experience. So what do you need to do to stay healthy and create balance while you are going through such a huge transition?

  1. Recognize that when one or more parts of life are neglected, you become out of balance, and like driving on a flat tire, the potential negative impact can range from minor issues to major problems.
  2. Commit to maintaining the foundation.
    • Sleep 7-9 hours every night, even the night before exams.
    • Eat healthy food, and remember that research shows eating breakfast improves learning.
    • Exercise at least three times a week; this is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety.
    • Set aside some time each day just for you, even if it is only 5-10 minutes; if the time is spent in silence, so much the better.
  3. Develop a weekly schedule that includes all the parts of your life that are important to you, such as academic tasks, social activities, leisure, time for family (phone calls or email instead of going home every weekend), and so on.
  4. Stay on top of your academic tasks because getting behind is extremely stressful and detrimental to your academic success. Your academic transition from high school to college student will be easier if you treat school as your job. Each day has 24 hours; use 8 for academics (including attending class), 8 for sleep, and 8 for everything else. This leaves the weekend free from academic work or for catching up/extra study if needed. This approach is excellent training for "real world" employment after graduation.
    • Use a planner to record exam and project/paper due dates for the entire semester. These will be listed on the syllabus for each class.
    • Start studying the first week of classes, even if you think you don't need to.
    • Keep up with all assignments.
    • Build daily and weekly review into your schedule. This will keep you from having to re-learn material right before exams.
    • At the first sign that you don't understand something in class, get help from your professor or from some other campus resource.
  5. Recognize symptoms that you are out of balance. These can include feeling overwhelmed, increased irritability, sadness, crying, changes in sleeping or eating behaviors, withdrawing from friends, feeling exhausted, lack of energy, headaches, and lack of motivation to name a few. If you experience any of these symptoms for more than a week or two, talk to a trusted adult or seek help from one of the many resources available on campus.