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Campus Closed? Structuring Your Day Will Foster Success

Building routines that foster wellness and reduce stress

With many schools canceling classes through the end of the month or the end of the semester, thousands of college students are faced with new challenges:

  • Online courses with new pedagogies, new technologies, and new kinds of tests and assessments
  • The need to develop new ways of listening and taking notes
  • A sudden premium placed on reading textbooks deeply and well
  • Disruption to routine activities and daily life – everything from meals to exercise to social lives.

One huge challenge for people suddenly home for college is the lack of temporal structure to your day. That’s problematic because rituals and routines are one of the best ways to reduce stress.

Build Healthy Routines That Schedule Wellness Into Your Day

Keep A Calendar: The first thing you need to do is use your CALENDAR. Many of the reminders that get you to class, get assignments done and get you where you’re supposed to be are gone. With your schedule more flexible, you will need to build that structure yourself.

If you haven’t already got a method that works for you, bullet journaling, the Getting Things Done system, or the Pretty Good Organizing System for Non-Linear Thinkers can help you set goals, build a 'to do' list, prioritize what's important, and remind you of what you've accomplished.

Structure Your Day: If you were living on campus, your roommate, cafeteria schedules, class times, and activities probably kept you moving through the day. Now, you'll need to schedule basic activities.

  • Establish a regular wake/sleep schedule. It's really easy to sleep until noon and stay up way too late. Don't do it. It will put you out of synch with the rest of your household and minimize the daylight you see.
  • Eat regular meals. Eating regularly will decrease snacking and structure your day. And it gives you something to look forward to after a morning of studying! This is a great time to hone your cooking skills. If other household members are working outside the home - or even if they're not - cooking (and cleaning up afterward) can be a big contribution to helping your home run smoothly.
  • Every day isn't a pajama day. Getting dressed in the morning, doing daily routines, and then getting undressed for bed helps you build and maintain a healthy sleep schedule. Not only do you need sleep to keep functioning, sleep is your number one defense against depression and anxiety. It bolsters your immune system too!
  • Set regular work hours. Some remote classes will be held at a specific time, but many will not. Set them! Working regularly will help you get into 'the zone' faster and make it less likely your multi-tasking will turn into a three hour YouTube scroll. Regular hours can also help you maintain social ties (see below).
  • Assign different tasks to different days. Scheduling different chores for different days may seem quaint, but it can be helpful. Integrate your school and work. It helps remind you what day it is and makes sure less pressing tasks get done.

Don’t be sedentary! I know my pedometer tells me that on a normal workday I log around 8,000 steps before 5:00. On a typical Saturday, I am under 1000. When you're stuck at home, you have to consciously build exercise into your day. Exercise is both a powerful anti-inflammatory and improves mood.

This is a great time to learn that exercise doesn’t require a gym. How?

  • Bike! Social distance is guaranteed if you're pedaling a vehicle that requires space to operate.
  • Walk. If you live in an area where you can maintain social distance, walking (or rolling) is good exercise. It gets you out in the sun (even when it's cloudy). If you're fortunate enough to live near a park or green space, being in natural environments has been shown to improve mood and reduce stress.
  • The 7 Minute Workout. If you can't leave home, the NY Times has a truly challenging Scientific 7 minute workout that will get your heart pumping and your muscles in tune. And yes, there's an app for that.
  • Yoga and Tai Chi. Both yoga and tai chi can be practiced in any space, without fancy clothing, and without a teacher. Both also reduce stress. There are many on-line resources that start with simple routines.
  • Chair Aerobics. Chair aerobics can get your heart pumping and your muscles in shape without even leaving your desk. They are also surprisingly challenging, especially exercises that require you to keep your arms or legs above your head.

Schedule Your Social Life. You are going to have to work at maintaining - or even strengthening! - relationships when you're apart.

  • Watch lectures with classmates. If you know people in your class, set up a time where you're both watching the remote lectures together. If it's live-streamed, mute your mics, listen, and then build a really outstanding set of notes to work from later. If it's asynchronous, most video services will let you screen share. You can both watch, pause and discuss, and put together notes. If you don't know the names of anyone in your class, ask around. Social networks are wonderful things. SOMEONE must know someone in your class. Alternatively, email the professor and ask if they can help provide a list of people interested in working together.
  • Schedule study dates. Even if you're in different classes, you and your friends can study together. Most of my undergraduate social life consisted of hanging around on an overstuffed couch with friends, each of us studying for a different class. You can still do that. Set up a time. Open a video or chat, and keep each other company while you read.
  • Netflix from afar. My son's friends are scattered across the country. They regularly schedule evenings where they sync a startup time and chat and text through a movie or favorite series. Dungeon and Dragons, reading groups, and definitely gaming can all be arranged remotely. Or just TALK. But make it part of your day - and definitely your week. And not just texting. Hearing a voice and seeing a face can feel good, especially when you're stressed.

Bottom Line: It's going to take work.

One of the great things about college - especially a residential college - is that it's set up to help you structure your day, keep on track, and stay in contact with friends. You're going to have to do that yourself now. Making the effort will improve the odds that this stressful situation is something you will use to build new skills and resilience. Those are great skills to have even when this crazy semester is over.

More from Nancy Darling Ph.D.
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