The Fight for Balance in a Back to School Routine


Matt Mersel

Illustration by Sarah Good

Let’s face it—getting back to school is difficult. Those unhealthy, borderline-hedonistic summer lifestyles that we create for ourselves need to be changed; it’s time to establish a fresh, balanced routine that promotes health and well-being while eliminating stress.

Luckily, the solution is easier than one might expect.

College life centers on creating a balance between three important components: the academic, the personal and the social. It becomes a challenge every day to get up early for class or practice, complete homework assignments, hold down a job, hit the gym, hang out with friends and significant others and still leave time for a hobby. As such, many students find that they give one of these three spheres priority over the others.

A policy that every college student should embrace is the “Rule of Thirds.” Basically, students should aim to divide their time equally between their academic, personal and social lives. One area shouldn’t take precedence over any of the others. For example, academic stress may seem like the most significant obstacle, and the one that should always be tackled first. However, it is important to remember that interpersonal relationships and physically unhealthy habits are some of the top stressors for college students.

Lisa Schwartz, chair of the University of California Santa Barbara Commission on Student Well-Being, embraces this policy.

“We encourage students to incorporate a holistic approach when creating their routines,” said Schwartz. “The Rule of Thirds program is a great goal for students to have, as it puts them on the path to being a good, healthy person.”

If you find yourself spending five hours on a paper in one day and have no immediately pressing assignments due, take a few hours to go to the gym, listen to some music, check up on friends and generally relax. Alternatively, if you completely ignore your academics, that will only cause more stress in your life. Maybe going to a party on Wednesday night isn’t the best call if you’ve been at it all week; put down the Rolling Rock and crack open a textbook. Additionally, if you feel like you have no time for any of your hobbies, don’t feel bad about closing yourself off for a while for some “me” time. Your friends will understand.

Schwartz has some additional advice for students looking to adjust their schedules and work towards being healthier and stress-free.

“Do something healthy, like go for a run or do yoga. Exercise is incredibly important for college students,” said Schwartz.

A study by the University of Minnesota Boynton Health Service found that “there is a direct link between college students’ health and their academic achievement.” In other words, the healthier a student is, the better they will perform academically—and the better they’ll feel in general. Staying healthy is really useful when it comes to reducing stress.

Some students on campus have already implemented this system in their own lives. Amanda Stansell, a second-year math major, explained how she found her balance.

“I’ve been looking at joining a new club like the Triathlon Club,” said Stansell. “I’ve made sure to keep up enough with my classes so I don’t fall behind, though, and so I feel like I have enough time when I go out with friends. Each part balances out the others.”

Nika Burnett, second-year theater major, has also utilized this policy in a very creative way.

“I created a routine very early on [in which] a lot of friends are incorporated into my required classes and my work. It still means I have to sacrifice going out sometimes, but having my friends with me makes up for it, and I still feel balanced,” said Burnett.

Going back to school may take careful planning to ensure health, relaxation and productivity. However, with a policy as simple as the Rule of Thirds or just adding a little bit of exercise into a day, this seemingly daunting task can become that much easier to tackle.