In movies and on TV, college athletes always look like they have it together. Brilliant, athletic, social and somehow always wearing perfectly coordinated uniforms, these Hollywood heroes seem to have it all. As a triathlete at Dartmouth College, I know the reality of life as a student-athlete is not quite as effortless as it seems on screen.
While every college athlete is their own hero for pulling off a superhuman balancing act of rigorous athletic and academic schedules, we’re certainly not perfect — and finding a way to make it all work can be overwhelming.
Whether you’re on the varsity squad now, were 20 years ago or you avoid the gym at all costs, you can probably relate to having a lot to juggle daily. Here are six strategies to help you stay level-headed when college, or life, gets a little crazy:
1. WAKE UP BEFORE YOUR COMPETITION
If there’s one thing that sets me apart from other college kids, it’s the time I wake up. Every day, I try to be up and out of bed by 6:30 a.m. I grab some oatmeal, my laptop and a very large iced coffee, and I dive into homework or my own writing.
Call me crazy (my roommates do), but there’s something about those couple of hours before the rest of campus wakes up that gets me in the zone. The world is quiet, the sun is rising and you’re already being productive — how could you not be inspired? The reward is more free time in the evenings to be social, catch up on work or get to bed early.
2. PRIORITIZE EATING WELL
That mac-n-cheese pizza (a real dish at the Dartmouth dining hall) might sound like a good idea for lunch, but you’ll probably change your mind when your body is trying to digest it at afternoon practice. Figure out what works for you, and wed yourself to it.
The chef who makes eggs at lunchtime knows my order by heart — two eggs over easy with black bean salsa — because I’ve gotten it so many times, and while my friends make fun of my sweet potato and almond butter dinner habit, as a gluten-intolerant vegetarian, it always feels right. Eating well means something different for all of us, but it’s so important to make sure you feel good when you fuel your body.
3. GET YOUR FRIENDS ON BOARD
The two things I always want to do more of (cross training workouts and dinner dates with friends) are the things that always seem to get the short end of the stick in my hectic schedule. My solution? The gym date, revamped. Inviting a friend to do a workout with you can be the perfect way to get some exercise while catching up.
There’s nothing like a hike or trail run to spark deep conversations in the great outdoors, but spin classes, weight sessions and yoga with friends are all great, too. I say the best of friends are those who sweat together!
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4. FIGHT YOUR FOMO
You don’t need to go to every party and social event to make great friends in college, especially if you’re going to be stretched too thin if you do. It’s far better to pick and choose times to be social and commit to being fully present during those times. That way, you’ll maximize fun and quality time with friends because you can relax knowing you’ve got the rest of your life under control. Plus, your friends won’t blame you for missing a night or two out — trust me, they probably like you much better when you’re well-rested!
5. TALK IT OUT
Talk to your coaches, your teammates, your friends and your professors — often. Each of them has unique advice and wisdom to share, so take advantage of your connection to so many amazing people while you’re here. Living within shouting distance of all of your best friends and mentors is pretty special.
In addition, everyone appreciates good communication, and your coaches and professors will be more willing to make adjustments to help you balance your commitments if you’re open and honest with them. Don’t forget: All of these people are rooting for you to succeed, so ask for help when you need it.
6. PAUSE TO APPRECIATE MOMENTS OF BLISS
You know those moments in life so filled with joy that they make you smile for hours on end? I’m talking about the sunrise during a morning run and the hours of laughter sitting around the table with friends.
It’s the wacky, why-did-we-do-that, unplanned adventures, and it’s also the quiet moments of tranquility. Leave time for both, and give yourself time to reflect and enjoy them. You just might find inner peace … or at least something close.