HOW TO GET INTO A HEALTHY ROUTINE AT SCHOOL
When many people hear the words “healthy routine” they cringe at the thought of what surely must be mind-numbing repetition. The word ‘routine’ is a synonym for ‘normal,’ ‘boring,’ ‘unexciting.’ We don’t want to live boring, normal, unexciting lives. We want constant stimulation, novel experiences, originality and unpredictability. A life full of those things is a life well-lived, right?
A HEALTHY ROUTINE DOES NOT IMPLY MONOTONY
There is an important difference between something being ‘routine’, and a routine. A healthy routine is something that helps keep you oriented and balanced throughout the day, and lets you plan and execute important tasks that allow you to succeed personally, professionally, and academically. If you find yourself wandering aimlessly through your university experience, and just can’t find a way to stay grounded, below are some of the reasons a good, strategic routine can help you do exactly that.
MAKE TIME TO EXERCISE
There is ample evidence to suggest that a variety of mental health conditions are directly linked (both positively and negatively) to exercise. The hippocampus is the area of your brain responsible for, among other things, regulating emotion. Research using animals has demonstrated that exercise leads to the creation of new neurons in this region of the brain, with similar research showing that many mental health conditions can be traced to reduced neurogenesis (i.e. slow, or a lack of new neuron formation) in that same area.
If you are able to incorporate three or more 45-60 minute exercise sessions into your weekly routine, you tend to see the positive effects on your mental health after about 4 weeks. So a trip to the gym, or a run after class doesn’t even necessarily have to be something you do every day. An hour of exercise every other day is enough to help keep you mentally healthy, will contribute towards your physical well-being, and will provide you with energy and a sense of purpose to help keep you going throughout the week.
GET INTO A PROPER SLEEP ROUTINE DURING THE WEEK
It is hard to maintain a healthy sleep schedule throughout the week (especially on the weekends), and living life and having fun will require that you break that routine from time to time. All in all, college students require at least eight hours of sleep per day. That may seem laughable, given the demands of school, reading, writing, studying, work, family, significant others, and friends, but, at the end of the day, you must ultimately want to prioritize your sleep in order to get enough of it.
There is a reason that athletes are very serious about getting adequate sleep (especially while training for a major competition), and why it is recommended that you sleep well before a big exam: your body needs sufficient sleep to function properly and optimally. Getting into a healthy sleep routine will require some initial sacrifice on your part. If you have an 8:30 a.m. class and you need to get up at 6:30 a.m. – to wash, get dressed, eat breakfast, and commute – realistically, you should be asleep by around 10:30 p.m. If you’re going to bed at 2:30 a.m. think about what you’re doing that is preventing you from getting to sleep earlier. Are you scrolling through social media for four hours, or is it because you got off work late? Make sleep a priority and your academic life will become easier.
SCHEDULE PERSONAL TIME
Having and keeping to a schedule also means making time for free time. If you know you are going to be fully booked until Sunday, then make sure you dedicate Sunday to yourself. A routine, even one structured around your health and success, can become oppressive if you don’t find time to do things you really enjoy doing. If it’s video games on Sunday, then play video games on Sunday; if it’s recreational soccer on Wednesday evening, then play recreational soccer on Wednesday evening.
By making scheduled time for yourself, you are also acknowledging that your other allotted time slots are for taking care of business. It is easier to allow yourself to be distracted by things that aren’t focused on academics (things meant to better you and set you up for future success) when you don’t have something keeping track of the personal time you’ve already set aside. When you’re reminded you’ve already had time to disconnect from school, you are less likely to keep seeking it out.
INVEST IN A DAY TIMER (OR SIMILAR APP/SOFTWARE)
Part of getting into a healthy routine is keeping track of that routine. If you have a visual reminder of what you have to do and when you have to do it, it makes keeping to schedule easier. If you like writing things out by hand, then an old-fashioned day timer might suit your needs. If you prefer having everything automated and tucked out of sight, then the innumerable scheduling and day planning apps that exist also come in handy. You can set up reminders and notifications throughout the day to keep you on track, making sure that you are respecting your routine and further ingraining it into your daily life. For a routine to become normal, you have to keep at it, and be willing to tough out the initial shock of living around a set of responsibilities and behaviours.