BaLENS: Finding Happiness at College

row of books in shelf

BaLENS is a column written by Jerry Yan about wellness, self-care and positivity. The name consists of “balance” and “lens,” meaning finding your life balance through the lens of life.

If you think about it, you’d find it reassuring: now that you’re in college, you have much more freedom and autonomy than you did in high school. You can do whatever you want now! No curfews, no nagging from your folks, no nothing. Meanwhile, however, you’re in charge of everything about yourself, from doing the laundry to preparing for a job interview at your dream company. 

Sometimes, the heaviness of responsibility can overtake the joy of freedom. What if you really want to go to this house party but you have a midterm the next day that you really need an A on? What if you signed up for a networking trip to Los Angeles one weekend but you’ll miss a presentation that’s worth 30% of your grade? What happens when you have five club meetings in one week but also a quiz and two exams to study for?

These are practical scenarios in college life, and adult life is full of choices to make. The thing about adulting is that there are no right or wrong answers, because not everything is crystal clear or black and white. Finding a balance in everything is key to being happy in college. Feeling lost or anxious? Feeling overwhelmed and chaotic? Here are some tips to help you find balance in your college life.


  1. Visualize your daily life.

Ever felt like you have a lot to do in a day but don’t know where to start? It’s better to just write them out. Every day, I wake up and brainstorm all the things I need to do and then I jot them down either on a piece of paper or on the Notes App on my phone. Personally, when I write them down, I briefly put them in a chronological order so that I don’t get mixed up about which one I should do first, but you can put them into any order you prefer.

For me, after I kept doing it for a while, I switched to using the Calendar App on my phone. It is pretty easy to get started, and you can visualize your days and weeks with colorful blocks and use the ‘alert’ function to remind you of the events. I know that “let me check my calendar” sounds so type-A, but I honestly love it! Visualizing makes my college life way more efficient and manageable.


  1. Keep a diary.

A diary is a great friend to talk to even if you hate writing! When it’s just you and that notebook you can hide in a secret place where nobody will interrupt you or judge your handwriting or grammar. Talking to oneself is a great way to recap on the day’s events and self-reflect. You can also keep track of how you felt at that moment. Slowly it gets easier to talk about your feelings, which can be hard to describe in words. I usually address events or people that I find confusing in my diary, but I also document the happy moments and victories so that when I look back, not only can I see how much I improved or grew overtime, but I can be uplifted and inspired by the joy in the past.

Writing a diary is even more personal than managing a calendar because you make your own rules. I don’t write in it every day, and I either type it on my phone or write it down in a notebook. The formality of a diary doesn’t matter; what matters is that you know it is an option when you get overwhelmed with your feelings.


  1. Recharge yourself on the weekend.

On weekdays everyone’s timeline usually centers around classes, but weekends equal freedom. There’s no 8 a.m.s or 9 p.m.s to keep you on campus, so why not be spontaneous? If you’ve been sleep-deprived during weekdays, why not sleep in on the weekends? If you’ve been busy at work or studying for exams, why not spend an hour at your favorite coffee shop reading a novel you like or watching a movie on your laptop?

I know you may say, “but I still have a ton of things to do!” I used to be the kind of person that wanted to do it all first then relax; however, we all need some time off just to recharge in between events. It can be as little as 15 minutes, but we often forget to do so on weekdays because we are preoccupied with deadlines and meetings, one after another. Once you’re recharged, you’ll be more focused on studying instead of thinking about the stuff you wanted to do for a long time, like sleeping in or starting an interesting show on Netflix.


  1. Invest in building a support system.

As a transfer student, I didn’t realize how important supportive friends are until I found some at Carolina. I’ve always been the independent type who never calls his mom and dad often to update them with my life; I pretty much never asked for help because I didn’t want to trouble anyone. Gradually, I started reacting defensively and recklessly to things, thinking that most people don’t really care about me or my life. I remember that during my first two months at UNC, I ate lunch alone every day and didn’t enjoy any activities here because I refused to let others support me.

Nevertheless, nobody has to do it by her/himself. We all have vulnerabilities and stories we want to share with people whom we trust and get along with. Most people are actually really open to vulnerability and eager to help. After meeting friends who’ve accepted and understood me, I felt brighter and energized. We’re all individual human beings alone, but together we support each other through both tough and easy times. Having an open and warm heart to connect with like-minded people is crucial. When you smile at people, they’ll probably smile back.


  1. Exercise.

The body is as important as the mind. When the mind gets frustrated, the body can help. When you breathe in the crisp morning air when jogging, you’d feel refreshed and ready to take on the day; when you stretch your back on the yoga mat, you’d feel relieved and stress-free. At school, we put so much time and effort to “train” the mind, and on our own we shall take care of our body too because only if they work together can they make a better you. However, don’t put too much pressure on yourself about sticking to a strict exercise routine. Things change and plans move around all the time, and it would take a while to make exercise a habit. Just know that your health comes before a lot of things, and exercise helps you stay on track and build a stronger mind.


6. Go shopping.

Shopping is a great way to reset your mood and satisfy your needs. Take a moment to appreciate the thoughtfulness of the marketing team behind each shop in the display, the lighting, the advertising, the customer service and so on. It’s a therapeutic experience to look for what you need in such a well-designed space and take your mind off from what’s been preoccupying you. The best part? It doesn’t have to be as expensive as spending $300 at Nordstrom. It can be going to Trader Joe’s to buy a $6 bouquet or buying a book at the Student Store. The point is to enjoy the shopping experience instead of rushing to the store to buy what you want and run away.


7. Get out of your room.

Humans are social animals that need communications and interactions to survive. As introverted as I am, I still want to talk to people on a daily basis. Even small talks with strangers could make us realize that others are going through the same things as we do. Moreover, your emotions are magnified when you’re in an enclosed space alone. People are more vulnerable and sensitive when they’re by themselves. Getting out of that space can help us refresh our minds and be more open to trying new things and talking to people. I know that getting out of your comfort zone is difficult, but once you do, you would feel a great sense of self-accomplishment because you’ve broken through your inner battle.

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About Author

Jerry Yan is a senior studying public relations at the School of Media and Journalism. Born and raised in Guiyang, China, Jerry speaks Mandarin and English and is influenced by both cultures. During his free time, he likes to travel around the world, write about his life on a blog and do yoga.

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