Stressed students prioritize self-care

Everyone knows college is stressful, but combine a heavy course load with obligations like working, volunteering and spending time with friends — and things get complicated.

Marilyn Wyrick, senior assistant dean of Academic Advising, said a 15-hour course load is based on the average credit hours per semester students need to graduate. The maximum number of hours a student can take is 21, but permission to take the maximum is not often granted.

“It’s a lot of work to take on 15 to 18 hours, never mind 20 to 21 hours,” she said.

More commonly, academic advising sees students taking 19-hour course loads, and many students who overload end up dropping classes at the beginning of the semester.

Senior Bethany Rutledge, a Hispanic linguistics major, is taking 19 hours this semester. She has class three days a week and works as a nanny from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

To manage her busy schedule, Rutledge said she had to adjust to not caring as much about things that would otherwise stress her out, like doing her homework perfectly or getting the best grades.

“I just kind of coast, and I had to let go of everything getting done perfectly and on time and having a lot of friends,” she said. 

Allen O’Barr, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said people try to pack as much as they can into their lives while they’re young, and only later develop skills they need to prioritize themselves.

“When things get too crowded on a schedule, I think one of the first things people let go of is taking care of themselves,” he said.

O’Barr said it’s important for busy students to realize asking for help is okay, especially with prioritization. Getting advice from a mentor or counselor early is a good way to avoid stress later, he said. Even he asks for assistance and sits down with his co-workers or his family to plan his time.

He said students should make time to do things for themselves. Just like managing time, self-care is about maintaining a sustainable balance, and it should not include destructive behaviors. Self-care can take the form of small choices that add up.

“I think people can make decisions about how much they inundate themselves with information and expectations, but I think that takes knowing oneself a little bit,” he said.

Rutledge said she unwinds by getting out of the high-stress college environment. She interacts with people of different ages at her church, and the kids at her job remind her there is more to life than academia.

“Hanging out with people of different age groups helps me get out of the college bubble, where the only thing people care about are GPA and resumes and internships,” she said.

Senior Olga Prokunina is a psychology major planning to graduate in December. She is taking 17 credit hours on top of working two part-time jobs 25 hours a week. As a Buckley Public Service Scholar, she volunteers at the UNC Medical Center to complete the 80 hours of volunteering she needs before graduation.

Prokunina said learning to take care of herself in her busy schedule has been a learning curve, but something she mastered after several busy semesters. She took off the second semester of her sophomore year and during that time she was able to reset her schedule.

“I re-learned what it was like to be able to have a full night’s sleep, and I decided to prioritize the next two years,” she said.

She said eating properly at healthy intervals is another way she has learned to keep herself in balance. Making time for her friends is important to her too, though she has had to learn to say no to some social obligations.

“The things that I do actually make time for, those experiences are even more special,” she said.

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