Balancing School and Self-Care (Part One)

The most difficult part of my university experience so far has been learning how to balance. Every September, I am thrown off my feet by my new schedule, and just when I feel like I have a routine set up, midterms hit. As the type of person who insists on combing through every single reading, I often find myself overwhelmed by schoolwork and unsure how to fit in any much-needed self-care activities.

However, spending 8-hour blocks on studying or writing has never worked for me either. I lose focus after a few hours at most, and often end the day cranky and tense from so much studying at once. Last winter semester, during a particularly difficult academic period, I went to see my college’s learning strategist for help. Here are some memorable tips that I learned from her, as well as some personal ones that work for me.

"Midterms" carved into pumpkin
Source: Rusaba Alam

My Five Favourite Self-Care Activities

In the midst of midterms, taking a refreshing break can often be the last thing on students’ minds. We may take procrastination breaks all the time — YouTube videos, Buzzfeed, scrolling through social media — and these are definitely valid in their own way. However, I find that more than a half hour of such activities often leaves me feeling guilty or more stressed. Instead, allotting the same amount of time for a calming, self-care activity tends to make me feel much more at ease. Here are several of my favourite ways to temporarily detach from work.

  1. Taking a bath. One of my favourite feelings in the world is sinking into a tub of hot water. Taking a bath is a wonderful, low-commitment de-stressor because I can bring a book along and do my readings in a more relaxed atmosphere. Usually, I like to choose a fun, enjoyable novel, and since I am an English major, this works out. Sometimes, a change of environment is all it takes to refocus. In this way, I get to relax without feeling too guilty about abandoning work.
Book and mug on bathtub tray
Source: homeedit.com

Finding Fitness at U of T (Without Joining a Single Organized Sport)

When I entered university, I was determined to take advantage of all the physical fitness resources available and undo the drastic drop in athleticism that had occurred during my teenage years. In grade six, I had found joy in doing laps at the U of T Athletic Centre pool every weekend. However, when puberty hit, and sports teams became increasingly ‘exclusive’, I grew self-conscious and made every effort to skip out on gym. Throughout high school, I only voluntarily participated in two sports: fencing (a one week long U of T summer camp) and archery.

Girl practicing archery

The Rocky Road to Healthy Eating

This summer, I was enrolled in full-time classes. I would be on campus several days a week from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.. As a commuter, unwilling to burden myself with more heavy things to carry, I bought pasta every day for lunch. By September, I had twelve dollars left in my bank account.

It hadn’t taken me long into first-year to realize that I often had to choose between healthy eating and cheap eating. Loaded with extracurriculars, my days spanned twelve hours; I would subsist off snacks, water, or cave in and buy a sandwich or pasta. When I first discovered food trucks, I had been delighted — finally, a filling meal for under five dollars! But I soon realized that each poutine — however cheap, hearty, and delicious — made my body feel bloated and uncomfortable for hours afterwards.

Food trucks outside Sidney Smith Hall

Reconnecting at the Hart House $5 Lunch

Between classes, Orientation week, and illness, I hadn’t gotten a chance to hang out with my best friend Julie for weeks. Our lunch dates kept getting postponed, so I was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned going to the $5 Hart House lunch yesterday and her schedule lined up.

We met outside the Great Hall just after 1 p.m., and although the lunch was set to end at 2 p.m., there was still a large line-up of students and plenty of food. Both of us took the vegetarian option — Greek salad, pita, rice, and a wonderful main of baked eggplant and lentils — although the lemon-oregano chicken sounded delicious as well. The three-course meal felt so refreshing, particularly since healthy inexpensive food is so difficult to find on campus. It left me full, but not at all bloated or uncomfortable as food truck lunches usually do.

Plate of vegetarian lunch

Coming Home to Caffiends

When I got back on campus at the end of Orientation, the first thing I did was visit Caffiends, Victoria College’s student-run fair-trade café, located on the first floor of Old Vic, the college’s castle-like building. As always, stepping into the cozy room felt like going home in a way that no other place on campus quite managed to rival.

Coffee cup on a table in Caffiends