School-Life Balance, A.K.A The Loch Ness Monster

By: Anjum MandaniGlobal Health

If you’re anything like me, then you probably start off your semesters bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, optimistic about how things are going to go. You’re excited for every class and project! You’ve promised yourself you’ll do every reading ahead of time and never put assignments off to the last minute. You vow to stick to your workout schedule, pack all of your meals, get in 30 minutes of sunshine a day, carve out time to hang out with friends, maybe even date a little! Perhaps you came across a job/volunteer opportunity and are considering applying for a second or third part-time position. You’ve probably even seen flyers and ads for several great talks and events at Emory or in Atlanta that you’ve put into your planner. You tell yourself you can do all of these things, no problem! After all, Balance – capital B – is key, right?

But then, drop/add week sees itself out, and a funny thing called LIFE happens, and the scale tips in either direction. Things start to feel more like, “Balance?? Never heard of her.”

If you’ve ever felt like this at any point in your academic life, you are definitely not alone. In fact, most of us kind of feel this way at some point or another, ESPECIALLY in grad school (and if you don’t, please reach out to me so I can ask you about how you conduct this sorcery). Often, Balance tips in the direction of school and work, and life gets left by the wayside. But the good news is, there are ways to try and reintroduce ~elements~ of Balance back into your life. Here are some quick tips!

TIP #1: Take preventive measures – make a list of your baseline, absolute, cannot-do-without needs.

I know, I know. My public health is showing. But hear me out! By this stage in life, it is likely that most of us either know what our needs are, or we are slowly but surely figuring them out. Make a list of these needs and internalize that these are the things for which you need to absolutely create space in your life, to make sure you are setting yourself up to be in good health. This is what my list looks like:

  • Meditation at least once a week.
  • Sleeping before midnight.
  • Cooking for myself at least once a week.
  • Engaging in at least one social non-school related event per week.
  • Daily 20-minute walks.

The list may seem minor, but over the past several years, I’ve found that I need these things to feel like a functional human being. It is also useful in helping me create positive patterns and boundaries in my day-to-day, which ultimately keeps me grounded.

TIP #2: Establish a social support system.

This can be really challenging, especially if you are new to Atlanta and don’t know anyone (and/or are a total introvert, like yours truly). The best place to look for this support system might just be your peers. In my experience, the students at Rollins come from such diverse personal and professional backgrounds, and have walked so many varied paths, that you are bound to find one person, or even a whole group of people, on whom you can rely. Student organizations might also be a good place to look for support. Perhaps exploring religious or faith communities with which you identify, ethnic communities, and other identity-based communities in the greater Atlanta area could be a way to establish connections.

TIP #3: Find things to do outside of Rollins.

I totally get that the CNR building can be totally beautiful, and that sitting on the bridge working or chatting with friends can be a blast. Or maybe the Gracement is your spot, and you love the feeling of being surrounded by your peers. But after a while, you will more likely than not get tired of how much time you spend on campus. This is when you’ll want to take advantage of everything Atlanta has to offer! Coffee shops with the yummiest cappuccinos, new book release events around town, special events at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, open mic nights at Apache café, cool hiking spots just outside of the city, Piedmont Park, the Beltline… the list goes on! Doing any (or all) of these things can be a good reminder that you’re not just a graduate student, but a very much alive human being with the right to enjoy life.

TIP #4: Know when to ask for help.

Honestly, I could write a whole separate blog post about this.

School and work and life are probably going to get overwhelming at some point. We’ve covered that. And sometimes the normal self-care routines and the prevention measures won’t help as much as they normally do. Or you might even feel completely unmotivated to do anything at all. Know that this is normal and it is not your fault.

And also, this might be a good time to ask for additional help. The Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)* offered by Emory might be a resource to consider. The social support system that we talked about earlier, along with family and friends at home, may also be USEFUL resources. Burnout, compassion fatigue, and all the like are so so real, especially in a field like public health. Prioritizing mental health and personal needs is paramount.

And finally….

TIP #5: Don’t feel pressured to always be Balanced!

Okay, you might be thinking that this contradicts everything I’ve written so far, and that the time you spent reading this has been pointless. Here’s what I mean though –

Living in 2019, we are constantly inundated with messages that we should be prioritizing our happiness, practicing mindfulness, living healthfully, and creating Balance in our lives. Do some yoga! Go outside! Hydrate! Eat more kale! Read books (or listen to podcasts, or whatever)! Self-care! The list goes on.

I believe all of this to be basically true and important. But it also seems like all of this kind of starts to feel like Balance is the end goal, instead of the process. Maybe we need to consider that by making Balance a thing we need to achieve, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Because the truth is, Balance is hardly ever a constant thing. You might feel totally balanced one day, only to be thrown off-course the next, because that is what was demanded of you in the moment. There will be days and weeks where all you are able to really do is study and work, and there will be times where yourself, your family, and other obligations will be given utmost priority, with school pushed to the back of your mind. There is no shame in this! The nature of our world is that everything is constantly in flux, and if you buy into the second law of thermodynamics, entropy is always increasing, anyways. So why not just take pride in the process, instead of pressuring ourselves to reach some arbitrary end-point called Balance?  

At the end of the day, we are all doing the best we can with what we have. And that itself is a Feat – capital F – worth celebrating.  

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