How to stay happy when you have a busy schedule

Between school, volunteering gigs, sports practice and more (not to mention college apps and bestie hangouts), a lot of us feel busy every day, all the time.

While it's great to be involved with meaningful activities and make time for them in your life, we all know that rushing from coffee dates to rehearsal to tutoring every day can be overwhelming—to say the least.

It's *so* important to prioritize your mental health to avoid burnout when you're at a busy time in your life. But it can be hard to figure out how, especially when you're wary about adding anything new to your agenda.

If you're starting your days with a feeling of dread about all the things on your plate, here are 11 simple ways to stay afloat and motivated on your busiest days. It can be hard to be happy when you're feeling overloaded, but there are a ton of small changes you can make to keep your spirits up even as you're running from task to task.

1. Find comfort in routines


When your day is feeling topsy-turvy, having simple routines is an effective way to feel grounded and return to a peaceful state of mind between tasks.

One easy tip: Make sure you have established morning and night routines to start and close your day with a sense of familiarity. In the morning, simply waking up fifteen minutes earlier to ensure you have time to eat breakfast, pick an outfit and put on sunscreen and makeup before heading to class or work. This tiny change—just fifteen minutes!—will help you feel calm and ready to face the day, rather than leave you scrambling around first thing.

At night, even if you're exhausted after a long day, take the time to wash your face and moisturize before slipping into bed. Not only will this be *great* for your glowy skin, but self-care at night is a manageable way to wind down and give your day a definite stopping place.

If you have a little more time, you can set up a longer routine, such as listening to a meditation app or reading a book in bed before turning out the light. Having something you enjoy that you return to every day will help you set boundaries and make sure you don't have too much screentime before you get your nightly ZZZs (and help you avoid revenge bedtime procrastination!).

During the day, a simple productivity ritual like writing everything down on a detailed to-do list can help your whole day feel more structured. Besides, checking items off of a list has been shown to give you a little hit of dopamine, so keeping a daily list will help you stay happy and get things done!

2. Elevate your space


Our surroundings affect our mental state, and having a cute and tidy bedroom is sooo comforting (and can even help you sleep!). To make your room feel like a safe space, find a day (maybe a Saturday?) when you have a bit of a break and do a room clean-out and a mini decorating session.

Tidy, uncluttered spaces improve mental health, and a neat room with a made bed and tidy desk space will benefit you, especially if you do homework in your bedroom. Meanwhile, adding relaxing touches to your decor, like a scented candle, some soft mood lighting or your favorite stuffed animal will make your room seem like a peaceful place where you can both get work done and also give yourself some TLC.

3. Prioritize sleep, food and movement


It seems so silly that our bodies' needs often go by the wayside when we're stressed. And yet this is sometimes the reality when we don't feel like there's adequate time in our day to get everything done.

Even if you're feeling *completely* overwhelmed by schoolwork or extracurricular commitments, we promise there are enough hours in the day to get a good amount of sleep and eat nourishing food.

Making time for enjoyable exercise can be trickier, but so rewarding—along with nightly peaceful sleep, exercise reduces anxiety, depression and negative moods and enhances overall wellbeing. But DW if you can't hit the gym every day. Going for a walk or run on weekend mornings when you don't have to wake up for school, or following a yoga video once or twice a week, is better than nothing. 

Finally, be mindful of pressure from others about sleep and movement, especially if other people like to brag about how they stayed up all night studying. At my high school, there was a huge culture of overachieving and people taking pride in running themselves ragged and not getting enough sleep. It can be hard when people around you seem busy all the time, but know that setting healthy boundaries means that you're responsible and mature enough to know how to take good care of yourself. Trust us that the most "together" people know that sleep, food and exercise are vitally important.

4. Wear a cute fit


This might seem small, but wearing clothes that make you feel good about yourself often has a huge effect on your mentality.

On the busiest of mornings, it's so easy to throw on the first things you can grab from your dresser and toss your hair back into a messy ponytail. But putting together an outfit with cute clothes that you like actually makes it easier to focus your attention outward on the things you need to do. When you're not worried about your appearance, you can forget about how you look and pay attention to the task at hand.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (of Gatsby fame) said it best: "The more parts of yourself you can afford to forget, the more charm you have." The same principle is true when it comes to productivity. Wearing a fun outfit that you like will bring you joy throughout the day, while letting you direct your mental energy towards more pressing things.

5. Make sure that what you're doing makes you happy


Even when you absolutely love every single thing you're doing, being too busy can still make you feel overwhelmed and unhappy. Imagine how much harder it is when you're committing your time to things that you don't even enjoy.

It's easier said than done, but if you're feeling too busy, take a good, hard look at what's keeping you so occupied and ask if it's something that's bringing joy into your life or if it's only draining you.

Depending on your situation, some things—like school—are nonnegotiable, no matter how you feel about them. But when it comes to extracurriculars, if the drama in your drama class is getting more personal than theatrical, or if you're exhausted from running track for hours every day and no longer enjoying it, decide if it's a commitment that you want to keep or if you'd be happier letting go.

It can still be hard to stop something you've been doing for years, though. If you'd like some extra support, try talking to a family member or friend who isn't as close to the situation as you are. They may provide another perspective you haven't even thought of!

6. Do bigger things earlier in the day


Here's a simple productivity hack if you enjoy what you're doing but you're still feeling too busy.

If there's something that you're dreading (like a big, painful homework assignment) try to tackle it first thing, or at any time of day when you're naturally energetic. If you're someone who gets more tired as the day goes on, it can be beyond helpful to save busywork or things that require minimal concentration for later.

Sometimes, this trick can work the opposite way. If you're overwhelmed by a task that has many moving parts, start with the ones that feel easiest and most manageable. By starting with the things that you know how to do, you'll build up your confidence to tackle the more difficult steps. Besides, once you get started, even with the easiest parts, you'll probably find that the job feels much less monumental than it did before you began.

7. Reach out to others


Reaching out to other people for help is useful, even if you're just generally stressed about everything you have to do.

It's easy to get so wrapped up in our ways of thinking that it's hard to see a new angle on a situation. Talking to someone else might shed light on something you can do to better structure your time. Even if you don't need advice so much as a listening ear, speaking with someone else about your stress will help you feel less alone in your struggles. Making a friend or family member aware of what's going on will also allow them find even more ways to support you.

8. Plan small things to look forward to


When you're busy day after day without a break, all of your tasks sometimes start to feel purposeless, which can be depressing.

To break up your busy weeks, make sure to have fun plans for the future that you can look forward to. If you're too busy on the weekends to do a full-day outing, small plans as simple as painting your nails, watching a movie with friends, reading a book or cooking a special recipe for the fam will give you somewhere to focus your attention.

9. Set healthy boundaries


When I was in high school, I had a friend who said that if her homework wasn't done by 10 pm, it wasn't getting done. While I didn't follow this program myself (I wish I had!), having a daily cut-off point is a prime example of a healthy boundary you can set to prioritize a good work-life balance.

Some things take us by surprise and demand our immediate attention. But in general, it's more than reasonable to have boundaries like a set bedtime or a certain number of hours that you spend studying every day. It's good to work hard, but it's not the end of the world if one class's homework assignment doesn't get completely done (you can always wake up early to finish, or email your teacher and explain). Your health and wellbeing are *always* more important.

10. Practice meditation


So many people swear by the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. But it can be hard to feel like you have enough time to even listen to a 5-minute meditation video. That said, meditating for just a few minutes is still a wonderful way to start your day or unwind at night, and it's easy to search YouTube or find a paid app like Headspace that will offer no end of short guided meditations.

If you're sitting in a classroom or somewhere without phone access, here are two very simple quick meditation techniques.

The first one involves doing a "body scan" to quite your busy mind and tune in to your body instead. Starting with your toes and ending with your head, focus on the sensations of each part of your body, concentrating slowly upward. It doesn't need to take any more than two minutes, and you can do it with your eyes open for a quick grounding even if you're sitting in class listening to your teacher talk.

The second one is a "loving kindness" meditation that will help you feel more connected with the other people in your life. Think of three people: a friend or family member you love, someone like a neighbor or a neutral acquaintance and finally a person with whom your relationship might be a little more difficult or strained. In turn, imagine each of these people going about their day peacefully and having good things happen to them, then wish them well in your mind.

11. Romanticize your life and work

@reyha_mete the only thing keeping me sane during senior year😭 #fyp #minivlog #collegelife #digitaldiary #romantizingschool #aesthetic #motivation #fallsemester ♬ genesis - β˜†

Romanticizing your life has become popular on TikTok and other social media. Basically, it means finding joy, love and peace within yourself and seeing the beauty and fun in the world around you.

Part of romanticizing your life is letting yourself be the main character in everything you do, which might require you to use your imagination a little and try to find the fun in being busy. If you're stressed about school, maybe you can channel Rory Gilmore or another iconic character who loves her school (anyone else in their Hermoine era)?

On a day when you're especially overloaded, accepting that everything feels difficult (but reminding yourself that you're a hero for making it through), can make work feel like a fun challenge rather than a total slog. And if it helps you to pretend that your math homework is time-sensitive, top-secret government work that you're doing as a James Bond-type spy, hey, no one's judging!

What do you do to take care of yourself when your life is hectic? Let us know on Twitter @girlslifemag!

Looking for more mental health tips and tricks? We've got you covered, bb!
πŸ’• Everything you need to know about revenge bedtime procrastination
πŸ’• 10 ways to take care of your mind during mental health awareness month
πŸ’• Tips to help you spring forward this season

Slider image: @mel.amartinez
Top image: @haleypham
GIF via Giphy


by Ava Slocum | 8/29/2023