Going back to school always seems like it will be an easy transition. Before you know it, you’re behind on your homework and everything seems to be coming at you all at once. Within those first couple weeks of school, it’s easy to fall behind and lose motivation. After all, schoolwork was something you hadn’t done all summer.
This happened to me earlier this year. I got back to school with my Google calendar filled out and ready to take on the semester. I knew that my course load was going to be a bit more difficult than in years past, but it ended up being a lot more intense than I thought. At first, it was easy figuring out what I needed to do and creating a plan. After adding my RSO involvement, sorority recruitment, and internship search to my course load, it was safe to say that I was stressed. From that point, I knew that it wouldn’t be a simple transition and I had to find ways to stay on top of work and stay motivated. It is easy to give up and let burnout get the best of you. Within the first couple weeks, I knew that I had to change how I was approaching my work or I would never get through the semester successfully. As a result, there were certain parts of my routine that I had to adjust to maintain my mental health and avoid overworking myself.
As I talked to my friends about the first couple weeks, many agreed it was common for the transition from summer-to-school to be overwhelming. In these moments, you can so easily forget the importance of looking after yourself and your health. When you feel at your best, you’ll want to continue to do your best in school. Still, it can be difficult to find time to focus on yourself and take a break. After all, there is always something you should be doing. As a result, I wanted to share a few tips on how I try to take care of my mental health with the back-to-school transition. After I applied these tips to my routine and made these a habit, I was able to maintain school in a healthier and less overwhelming way.
1) Prepare Early: Too often, I put readings and assignments off until the school year since it was still summer – and there’s always time. Once the school year started, I had no time to finish it. Earlier this year, I had some review modules due the third week that were assigned two weeks before school starts. Originally, I thought I would have enough time to work on them throughout the week. However, I had all of my coursework and back-to-school events happening at the same time. As a result, I found myself at the kitchen table on the day before it was due trying to finish six hours’ worth of review. I got it done, but it was a lot more stress.
I knew that when these were assigned, it was going to be hard to complete them at home with the summer mindset. However, I continued to procrastinate my work instead of trying to distribute the work evenly and getting it done. I’ve found that leaving my room and finding a coffee shop or library will give me an incentive to work. Also, I feel that a good way is setting up a reward system and rewarding yourself with a coffee or a meal from your favorite restaurant once you reach a certain point will help you get down and do the work. Looking back, I would have divided up the work, left my house and gone to the coffee shop to get work done. That way, I would not have been distracted by everything at my house around me.
I know that it is a quick turnaround when the school year starts and easy to get overwhelmed. When I don’t prepare ahead of time, I’ll find myself trying to finish the old work while learning the new work is not helpful and gets confusing. The work that they give during summer is meant to prepare you. Even when I get my books together and find a way to take notes, it saves so much time in the long run; it is meant to find the best way to study instead of learning it too late in the class. As a result, I know that in years that I’ve prepared by doing the review material or reading over the syllabus ahead of time, I have found myself more excited and willing to go into the semester instead of being a ball of stress.
2) Stay Active: Many people start the school year intending to follow a good workout plan and stay in shape. In my case, my workout schedule was placed on the backburner due to my other commitments. Still, it is important to incorporate some exercise in your schedule because staying active is good for your health holistically. Plus, you need to take a break. If I don’t have time to go to the gym, I will try and go for a walk – even just for a quick 15 minutes – to clear my head. Also, I live about 20 minutes from my classes, so I end up walking to each of them. I’ve found that it allows me to be more productive on my classwork. When I work out, I find that I am getting something done in my day or checking something off my list. I have already done something productive, and I feel inspired to do something else. I feel happy after working out and I want to get my checklist completed instead of just lying in my bed all day. I have already gotten up and moved my body around so now I don’t just want to crawl back into bed.
3) Maintain A Healthy Diet: While living in the dorms or on meal plan, you can’t really control what is given to you at the dining hall during your freshman year. However, the moment that you get your own cooking area, it’s important to learn at least a little bit about the kitchen. I lived in the dorm and then my sorority house during my freshman and sophomore years respectively. However, I lived in an apartment this year and it was my first time making my own food. At home, I had minimal cooking experience. As a result, my mom taught some simple recipes and just the basics of cooking.
I swear that getting the motivation to learn about it is the most difficult part. The moment that you start cooking it becomes so much fun. I would find recipes online like stir fry and different pastas. I also did not feel compelled to eat out all of the time. This enabled me to save money and reduced my stress as well. You’ll find recipes such as chicken fajita tacos and veggie bowls, which seem complex at first but become so easy after the first time you make them. You can even do your homework while the noodles are heating up. Normally, I would only know how to make pizza, but I found a way to incorporate fruits and veggies into foods that taste better was healthier too!
Since I’m buying my own groceries, I’ve found that I’m more in control of what I’m putting in my body and can limit myself from buying unhealthy foods. Not only is eating healthy foods good for your brain and allows you to live a long happy life, but cooking also allows you to take a break. As someone who feels guilty if she is not doing something useful all the time, I’ve found that cooking enables me to take some stress off myself; it makes me feel as if I’m doing something worthy of my time. Whenever I eat healthy, I feel more positive and awake. I am more alert in classes and more ambitious to answer questions and make sense of the material. Cooking gives you the chance to be in control of what is going into your body and allows you to be creative and try new things.
4) Write It All Down: My final tip for prioritizing your back-to-school mental health is to jot down all your commitments, classes, and assignments into a planner. Currently, I will use the website Notion, an online planner that has premade templates that allow you to do a lot of different organizing tasks, such as to-do lists, budget money or plan trips, to type out my assignments. I will then use Google Calendar to make note of my classes, events, and meetings that I need to attend.
Recently, I have started using a planner, where I will cross out tasks that I need to do during the day. There is so much that you need to remember in classes. A planner or calendar website can help you guarantee that you will attend everything and get everything done. It also allows you to stay organized. Not only can you work on things ahead of time, but you feel less stressed and able to get ahead in all your classes. I write everything down that I need to do and cross each item off them when I finish them as a little celebration. When I remember everything in my mind, it can be too much and I’m more likely to forget it. I will be afraid to do extra stuff because I’m scared; I might overbook or not get stuff done. In other words, I will get in my own head and drift away from organization and productivity. However, when I write stuff down, I feel a sense of achievement in completing the tasks. I don’t miss any meeting or classes and I don’t let anyone down in the meantime. It is taking that extra step that gives my mind a break to help your mental health so I’m not so hard on myself.
In conclusion, it can be difficult to remind yourself to take time for yourself right when school starts, but it is so important. You will be at your best self when you are organized and preparing to avoid a lot of unnecessary stress. Also, it will allow you to do your best during school. Before school even starts, it’s important to prepare for the school year by working on things ahead of time and creating a schedule. As the school year goes on, it’s important to stay active, eat healthy, and stay organized on prior commitments and classwork. Back to school season can be stressful, but it can be so rewarding in the long run if you are able to stay focused.
Grace Bock is a junior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Gies College of Business. Though she was raised by two Illinois graduates, she had no intention of carrying on the legacy until the first time she visited the campus and fell in love. While coming into the business school as undeclared, Grace has recently declared accounting as her major. She likes to spend her free time trying new skincare, organizing, staying active, and meeting new people.
Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.