Dear Babbs

Dear Babbs,
Spring is finally here in Chicago! But all I want to do is be outside with my friends. I know we just finished spring break and there is only about a month of school left, but I cannot seem to motivate myself to finish my school work. The Oak Street Beach, Lake Front Trail, Lincoln Park, Millennium Park, Grant Park, and, to be honest, all parks are calling me. What do I do?
Sincerely,
Wanting To Be Outside

Dear Wanting To Be Outside,
After a Chicago winter (even a relatively mild one), it is not unusual to experience “spring fever” and want to enjoy sunlight and warmer temperatures, especially if you’ve been affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of mood disorder—like depression—that tends to occur at a specific time of year, typically winter. It is also fairly common to have difficulty refocusing on school work after spring break because the end of the academic year seems so near. These desires, however, need to be balanced with an appropriate amount of time spent on school work, especially since there are fewer weeks after spring break this year than is typical at Columbia.
As you finish your semester, try to keep both time management and a balance between work and play in mind. You should allow yourself some time to take in the sun’s rays; if you do not do so, you may experience some anxiousness due to excess energy (a common symptom of spring fever) and/or resentment about having to be inside when you’d rather be out—not to mention trouble focusing. When we want to do one thing (i.e. be outside) but force ourselves to do another (i.e. sit in the lab to work on a project and/or study), we often find ourselves doing neither. We may sit in the lab, but our mind tends to be unfocused, daydreaming about beautiful Lake Michigan and dozing on the grass. The best way to respond is to set time limits. Plan to spend 1-3 hours in the lab and then reward yourself for your work by eating lunch outside or going on a walk. If you know that you will get to be outside—and that you will be at a specific time—you will be less likely to spend your homework/study time thinking about whether and when you can enjoy the fresh air. Planning your schedule to accommodate being outside also allows you to focus on the task at hand and make the most of your study time. By completing homework during the study time, you will be more able to enjoy the time you do have outside because you will know it is well-deserved and you are not skipping or ignoring your responsibilities when you choose to be outside rather than doing schoolwork.
Another way to integrate your desire to be outside with academic work is to rearrange your social schedule. Often, students think the best time to hang out with friends is in the evening. But it is more difficult to take advantage of the sunshine if you’re only allowing yourself to socialize or take time off during the evening. Consider arranging a mid-day picnic or urban hike with friends during the daylight and plan to study in the evening, after the sun sets and temperatures inevitably get somewhat chillier. Or, if you like being outside to exercise, rather than socialize, change your exercise routine. If you typically go to the gym at a specific time, try going outside instead. Take up running, biking, rollerblading, or another activity that allows you to be outside. Figure out why you like to be outside and what you prefer to do when you’re out. Once you do that, you can make the most of your time outside to maximize the benefits of relaxation or taking a break. Regardless of how you choose to structure these last several weeks of the semester, ensure that you allow yourself some time outside and enough time to finish your school responsibilities. Even if your time outside is limited for now, you will have more time come May.

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