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8 Ways to Stay Involved in College Life but Not Go Completely Crazy

8 Ways to Stay Involved in College Life but Not Go Completely Crazy

I’m a college student. Maybe you’re a college student, too. Life is crazy busy. Like, extremely busy. Maybe you’re in the same boat as me. You are involved in classes, yes, but then there’s everything else: your job(s), internship, extra-curricular clubs, and various groups. Maybe you’re a member of a sorority or fraternity, as well. You and me, we’re involved in a lot—let’s just keep it at that.

Somehow, some way, we are expected to have our lives under control. Homework is due. Exams are practically every other day, not to mention the many group projects, club meetings, and study sessions.

When do we have time to get it all done, let alone breathe?

There are only twenty four hours in a day, which sometimes, feels like not enough. If you’re anything like me, you’ve tried to organize your life, you really have. You began this school year with a positive outlook on the semester, telling yourself that you’d sleep eight hours a night, get straight A’s, and have enough time for both your social life AND studying. But somehow, in the span of just a few weeks, that ideal image has begun to quickly fade out of sight. Now, reality has set in.

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If you’re on the verge of losing all the sanity you have left… if you’re on the crossroads between Crazy Town and Panic Road, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are 8 Ways to Stay Involved in College Life but Not Go Completely Crazy.

1. Check lists are your new BFF.

Check lists are your life preservers. Buy a notebook specifically for this purpose—it’s that important. Check lists have helped me in huge ways, and have literally saved my sanity multiple times.  First, write down everything you have to do that week. Everything, even the group meetings and the homework assignments… even the mall trip you hope to squeeze into your schedule somewhere. Then, break it up into days. Daily checklists break down the overwhelming To-Do lists into smaller, more manageable pieces. Write reasonable goals for yourself every morning, goals that will actually be completed by the end of the day.

Writing even the most mundane tasks down, like taking a shower, gives you a motivational boost of energy when you are able to check it off. There’s something empowering and encouraging about checking off an item on your To-Do list. It makes you feel productive, because you are! You’re getting things done in a more organized, less crazy way.

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2. Become Time-Oriented

Time is precious. There are only so many hours in a day to get everything done, so wasting it is a huge mistake. Becoming Time-Oriented is very easy to adapt, but it takes will power. Set time goals for yourself. Have to study for an exam? Give yourself one hour. Then take a break and do something else, something on your check list. Start writing a paper outline or respond back to a group project email.

Breaking up your time into smaller chunks helps create a more relaxed brain space. Focusing on one thing for too long is not productive. By giving your brain a break from one task, you are able to be more productive and complete more tasks faster.

However, becoming time-oriented does not mean that you become legalistic about scheduling. Allow for a little flexibility, in case something comes up or you accidentally sleep in a little too late. Be persistent in becoming time-oriented, but keep an open mind. If you under schedule yourself for a specific task, you will feel stressed, so make sure to keep your time limits reasonable.

3. The 10 Minute Cycle

This is one of my secret tricks. Piggybacking off of #2, the 10 Minute Cycle helps release the overwhelming stress you may feel between tasks. Walking to class? Put your phone away and listen to a few songs, instead. Taking a break from exam studying? Stand up and do 50 jumping jacks or 50 sit-ups (or both!). Group meeting done early? Check your email or call a friend. The 10 Minute Cycle allows you to do something different every day. Whether it’s checking Facebook, walking around campus, or listening to some pump up music, give your mind a re-boost of energy between tasks or meetings. The trick is: Keep your activity at 10 minutes or less. It’s just enough time to jumpstart your focus, but short enough to keep you on track.

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4. Write. It. Down.

Let’s face it. No matter how good you think your memory is, sometimes it fails you. You thought you’d remember your dad’s birthday, but you forgot. You thought you’d remember that the exam is next Tuesday, but you didn’t realize it until Monday night. Things happen. Write it down.

Buy a planner or put it in your phone. However you’d like to make record of it, do it. Stick to it. Always check it. Update it. By writing it down and keeping up with your plans, you won’t get everything confused. Write down the times next to your meeting dates. Write down the number of the classroom your sorority is having their weekly meeting. Whatever it is, write it down. Thinking you’re going crazy and actually going crazy aren’t that different. When you write your thoughts down, it’s a valid and visual reminder of what you have to do. Chances are you won’t go crazy when you don’t have to worry about forgetting something!

5. Change your scenery.

If you are stuck in your dorm or the library studying for yet another exam or meeting for another group project, I feel bad for you. Sometimes, the scenery is what makes us feel overwhelmed. Change it up! Head to Starbucks or a little café. Go into the student lounge or to a random window seat in an academic building. Changing up the scenery will change your productivity level, too, which will, in turn, keep you sane and focused. Your dorm and the library are great, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes, a little change is good for you!

6. Clean your space.

Mental stress is really the underlying factor beneath the hectic schedule. The mind is running a thousand miles per hour and you don’t know how to make it slow down. Clean your space. Organize your desk, make your bed, put away your laundry. By making your personal space clean and organized, you’ll free your mind, as well. Plus, when you go to study or have friends over, you’ll be able to focus on that instead of being distracted by everything around you. A clean space is a happy head space.

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7. Quotes on quotes on quotes.

As random as this is, quotes are lifesavers. When you have a bad day or are simply on the verge of a break down, quotes taped to the wall, written in notebooks, stuck to the mirror, hanging from the ceiling—wherever they are, they’re helpful. Write down your top 10 favorite quotes and post them everywhere. Read them whenever you can. Live by them. They’re there to save you from Crazy Town.

8. Relax.

Sometimes, we’re just so busy that we forget to relax. I feel like I’m always running around, going to the next meeting or studying for the next exam, that I forget to enjoy the day or give myself a break. At the end of every day, set aside time to simply relax. Watch an episode of The Walking Dead or Netflix an old episode of Breaking Bad. Read a magazine or scroll through Pinterest. Whatever is the best way you will feel relaxed, do it. You deserve it. It’s been a long day. Treat yourself to a little relaxation, because not losing your sanity is worthy of celebration.

Those are 8 ways to help you stay busy without going crazy. I hope they are helpful to you! Have any other tips you’d like to share, comments, or suggestions? I’d love to hear them! Comment below or Tweet me!

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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