The key to a healthy life is balance. When you think of balance, what comes to mind? Often balance is misperceived as a static condition. Balance, however, is an ongoing dynamic process whereby you stay simultaneously aware of multiple areas of your life, adjust to daily demands, and align your responses and values. Balance is an individual process, and only you know when areas of your life feel balanced.
College is the first time in life for many young adults to choose what you do, where you do it, and with whom you do things, with little or no input from parents or others. Sure, you have specific requirements to meet for a degree, but you also choose when or whether to attend class, how to use your free time, and how you care for yourself.
Disruption and ambiguity can make anyone feel somewhat unbalanced. With the uncertainty and change that has resulted from COVID, there’s much that will be different in attending school this fall. Each college is struggling with how and when to bring back students, whether there will be sports and if yes, will the stadiums and arenas be open to spectators, will there be mostly on-line classes or how to offer in-person learning safely. Much is still in flux and unknown, with new changes announced daily. This loss of structure, routine, and purposeful activity can trigger feelings of anxiety, worry, sadness, and fear. Not knowing what is in store for the coming school year can range from unsettling to downright daunting. One of the most helpful ways to get back on track and to re-establish direction and balance in your life is to reflect upon who and what is most important and meaningful to you.
First, ask yourself who and what matters most to you? Why? Who among your family, friends, roommates, classmates, professors, coaches, or others embraces you at your best and encourages you to make healthy lifestyle choices that support you in mind, body, and spirit? Please write it down.
Next, take a deep breath. Visualize yourself returning to college as your absolute best self in mind, body, and spirit. Note what you are thinking, doing, and feeling when you are your best self. Think of the words that describe you when you feel your best. Are you energetic, active, connected, cheerful, outgoing, and productive? Are you peaceful, reflective, curious, calm, engaged, and lighthearted?
Think about behaviors and activities that help you feel your best. Ask yourself if you are sleeping enough and waking up feeling refreshed? Are you making healthy food choices, including eating more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and less processed foods? Are you drinking enough water throughout the day? Does your day include moments of meditation, mindfulness, or a pause to take a few deep breaths? Are you including movement in your day, such as going for a run, trying a virtual yoga class, or even stretching? Are you kind to yourself and others? You might notice how you have gotten harsher with yourself as you embark on a big life change or try to settle back into a new routine that differs significantly from last semester. Are you maintaining connections to people, places, and things that bring you joy and affirm your sense of purpose? These questions help bring your awareness to what you are doing each day and consider what brings you joy and balance, and what brings imbalance and stress. Whatever your answers, try not to judge yourself, but rather to view it as an opportunity for increased self-awareness and compassion.
Time spent identifying who and what matters most to you (your values) will help you engage in activities aligned with your sense of purpose, regardless of your external circumstances. When you notice yourself becoming stressed and making choices that don’t support your values, you can find your way back to your best self by setting actionable steps to balance areas where you feel stuck or dissatisfied. A clear vision of and commitment to what matters most to you as a college student, individual, friend, and any other role you may assume, will be your guiding light.
By Tina Kaminski, MA, MSW, LISW-CP