Ever feel like school is overwhelming? Like you can never escape the deadlines and the pressure? I went through the same thing in high school, but in my first year of university, I found a way to balance school and my personal life. If you keep them tangled together and let your stress consume you, it can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. You’ll be overrun by stress and anxiety, and will constantly be overthinking. If you can learn to separate school from life, it’ll make your days much easier and more enjoyable.
Physically Separate School from Life
If you’re on campus, it's much easier to separate school from life, since… well… it’s literally separated. What makes things much worse is learning online. Psychologically, if you don’t separate the space where you relax from the space where you work, your mind will continuously associate and blend the two. You’ll feel like you can't escape the stresses of school because you’re staying in the exact same environment. If you’re at home, try to get your desk out of your bedroom. If that’s not possible, try tucking it away somewhere away from your bed. If you’re able to, try to put your desk in another room, or do your schoolwork in another location away from your bedroom. By simply removing the stressors from your environment, you’d be surprised how big of a difference it makes when it comes time to relax and do other things.
Here was my "office" during the pandemic. Make sure to keep it free of clutter so that you can focus, and keep all distractions in another room. Dedicate a space solely for work so that you can create that mental separation. I figured if I was trapped in the basement for a year I would try to decorate it a bit ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Treat It Like a 9 to 5
School requires the same amount of, if not more effort than a job. It’s high-stress, and at times, it can be a high-stakes thing to be involved in. If you want to separate school from life, you need to set time boundaries. Yes, university is challenging, but it’s not a 24/7 commitment. It depends on your program, but the general consensus is that you should spend around 40 hours per week on classes and schoolwork. Some weeks may require more or less, but learning to only work harder when it's required is key to reducing stress. If you overload yourself constantly, you’ll be burnt out by the time you actually need that extra effort. You can change the times if you like, but I knew during online school, I preferred a 10-6 workday (or even an 11-7 if I needed to sleep in…). I am by no means a morning person, so I always scheduled myself a little later in the day. By keeping a time limit on school, you will subconsciously complete your tasks faster and more efficiently since you know you “won’t” be able to do them later. For more tips on how to schedule, check out my other blog “How to Prioritize Tasks and Meet Deadlines.”
Here’s a picture of my schedule (and the unnecessary typewriter I used to prop it up). It only shows my classes so that I know when I need to go to lectures, and the rest of the day is left blank. Don’t over-organize yourself. Things change and detailed schedules can rarely be kept, so try to keep things open and just prioritize the things that can’t be missed, like class. Don’t put “study for x class, go to the gym, eat”. That’s too in-depth. Keep it simple so that you can actually stick with it.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Last, but most certainly not least, is the part that I personally struggle with. When separating school from life, don’t bring the stressors from school home with you. Don’t let worrisome thoughts live rent-free in your head. The school day is over, it’s time to focus on something else and relax. You need to give your brain a break. Too much worrying and anxiety is really bad for your mental and physical health. Try not to worry about the little things — chances are, it's insignificant, and you’re blowing the perceived consequences of the situation way out of proportion. Not every little thing has to be the end of the world, even if our brain makes us think that it is. There's an old theory called Occam’s Razor — the simplest explanation is usually the right one. If you’re the type to overthink, like me, it helps to run through your thought process. Is this really something worth stressing about? Is it something I can change right now, or am I just worrying for the sake of worrying? Is this worst-case scenario actually likely to happen, or do I just want to panic for no reason? Once you can remove these nagging stressors from your mind, you’ll find school truly separated from your personal life. It is the final and most important step since it allows you to de-stress and reduce anxiety. By keeping your mental health in good shape, your mind will be in better condition to succeed academically, and it’ll make the process more enjoyable too.
Separating school and life, both physically and mentally, is key to your success. By learning to create boundaries and freeing up time to do other things, you’ll reduce your stress and boost your academic performance. Working for the sake of working or grinding all-nighters is often bragged about in university, but in reality, is meaningless at best and detrimental at worst. Striking a balance between work, extra-curriculars and fun is crucial for you to get the most out of your university experience.
Economics and Ivey AEO @ Western University
Vice President of Operations and Mentor @ LEAP Canada
About the Author
Alex has been with LEAP since 2020, starting off as a Mentee. He then became a Campus Ambassador and is now working as the Vice President of Operations, where he leads LEAP’s programs and events. He is also a mentor with LEAP. After the help he got from LEAP as a Grade 12 student transitioning to university during the pandemic, it’s his mission to give back to new students and to make their academic journey as smooth as possible.