Keeping Busy, Keeping Well


Somehow, in spite of the prospect of Reading Week, the winter term always hurtles by much more quickly than the fall. It might be because it’s easier to shake off two weeks’ holiday at Christmas-time than it is to dispel the sleepiness of summer. Or perhaps it’s because we’re making plans for the future—looking at summer courses, applying for internships or jobs, trying to make decisions about grad school. Or it may be an illusion, brought on by January and February’s painfully short days. Whatever the reason, a few weeks before Reading Week, the stress starts to hit. People are trolling McLennan for carrels early and late. A few daring souls—horribile dictu!—start to sully McGill’s reputation for fashion perfectionism by wearing sweatpants in public. Students clutch their coffee thermoses like life preservers, dark circles under their eyes. People lingering outside of classrooms compare sleep schedules: who’s getting by on the least sleep and the most caffeine?

This is unhealthy enough, but what are you supposed to do when your life is even busier than the average stressed-out student? Maybe you have a long commute, are trying to juggle an unusually heavy course load, or are working two jobs to pay rent and tuition. Maybe you’re involved in demanding extracurriculars, or are struggling with health problems, or a family crisis. Whatever the reason, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that is being asked of you, much less take care of the day-to-day tasks of life like grocery shopping, eating, sleeping, and so on. 


You can’t make the busyness disappear completely, but there are many small things you can do to help you get through the season with your health and sanity intact.

  1. Plan. Sometimes half the stress is not being sure what exactly you have to do. Rather than tackling assignments as they pop up, block off a quiet hour with a cup of tea and your agenda and figure out everything you have to do for the week. Not having to worry that you’re forgetting something important will make things much less hectic.
  2. Triage. If there are things you can drop, drop them. But be careful to maintain balance—you need a certain amount of recreation to stay sane.
  3. Enlist Aid. If you find you’re having trouble taking care of yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help. More often than not, friends will be very glad to help out by returning a book to the library or feeding you for an evening—especially if it means getting to see you! You obviously shouldn’t abuse their kindness, but there’s a reason you have a support network.
  4. Make Rituals. Carve out moments throughout the day to be still. Walk to school, doing nothing but watch the people and listen to the sound the snow makes under your feet. Drink a cup of tea. Get up and stretch. Read for pleasure for ten minutes after dinner. Make a point of going to a worship service, a yoga class, or a quiet park at least once a week. Don’t forget about your spirit when your mind is running overtime!
  5. Move. The same goes for your body. You probably won’t be able to do as much as usual, but don’t throw exercise completely out the window.
  6. Sleep. Obvious, but more difficult than it sounds. When you’re busy, your mind tends to spin even after you stop working, keeping you awake long after you meant to be in the land of nod. To some extent this is inevitable, but you can minimize stress-induced insomnia by making sure you stop working well before bedtime and do something quiet and relaxing, such as read poetry, listen to peaceful music, or meditate.
  7. Cook. Not all the time, but at least sometimes. Carve out an hour or two on the weekend to plan meals, cook a big batch of soup or chili, and maybe make some snacks.
  8. Eat. Which, of course, brings up eating. In a busy time, it’s easy to get distracted and forget to eat until you’re absolutely famished. Try to have snacks along with you. They needn’t be complicated—just a piece of fruit or some nuts will do the job. Keep away from sugary and starchy snacks, which will usually leave you feeling frazzled rather than energized.
  9. Unplug. Don’t feel guilty about turning off your phone or leaving your email alone when you’re trying to work. If the internet is a problem, go somewhere without it to work.
  10. See People. You needn’t be your usual social butterfly self, but it’s not too difficult to coordinate breaks or meals with friends. They understand you’re pressed for time, and will be happy to see you for as long as you can give them, and you’ll be a hundred times happier for it.