How to keep your sanity as a student in Amsterdam (or anywhere)

When I was just a fresh-faced 18 year old student from a small city just outside of Rotterdam, I had no clue what to expect when I moved to Amsterdam. Nonetheless, I was excited. It was august 2016 and my brother had just left me behind in my small room in Amsterdam-Zuidoost with all my stuff and I was sitting on the floor wondering what to do next. ‘ Maybe I can go outside and take a walk, I thought to myself,’ but no, it’s too late to go outside now…’ A lightbulb went off in my head. Who was telling me it’s too late to go out?I was an adult, damn it, and I could do just as I pleased.

That first moment when you realize the extent of your freedom is an exhilarating one, but also a fatal one. Nobody can force you to do anything anymore now, so it’s up to you to take care of your health and well-being.

When I started studying I was having the time of my life, but I was also miserable. On the one hand, life was fantastic. I was passing my classes with not much issues and beside that I didn’t really have to do anything so I would stroll through the city or hang out with friends. Meeting new people in Amsterdam is never an issue so I would scroll through my phone, send out a short ‘hey, what are you up to?’ to about 6 people and go on my merry way. Over time though, I found myself feeling more and more stuck in a rut. I wasn’t really doing anything with my life and on top of that, my health was slowly but surely declining: I was coming down with a cold or flu every other week or so. When I woke up for the umpteenth time in a row in the late afternoon, late for an appointment, feeling distressed, I thought to myself: Something must change. As I sat in the tram, I was thinking about what was making me feel so disoriented. With that, I proudly present you with four ways to keep your sanity when you’re living as a student in Amsterdam (or anywhere for that matter).

1. Give yourself structure

As I mentioned before, once you start studying you’ll discover what it means to have freedom. No nagging parents, no teachers breathing down your neck with every move. The anonymity of the university makes it easy for you to stay just another face in the crowd. At first, this will be the best thing that ever happened to you, but soon enough you’ll long for the days where someone was telling you what you should do. So how does one give oneself structure? It’s easy: First of all, find yourself something that gives you responsibility and feels purposeful. This could be either a job or a function as a board member. It’s one thing to give yourself things to do, but something external having expectations for you makes it difficult to say no. If you know you have to work every Tuesday and Wednesday, for example, you can plan the rest of your week according to those responsibilities you have. Thus, you can find a structure in your day to day hectic life.

2. Give yourself some rest!

One thing you will discover when you start studying is that everyone is always ‘busy, busy, busy’. So busy! I would like to think it’s a symptom of the fast-paced technology generation. While it’s tempting to go out and meet up with as many friends/acquaintances as possible once you do have the time, try take a day off for yourself. This can be a productive lazy day: Maybe clean out your room and throw away all the clothes you don’t wear anymore or start reading that book you’ve been meaning to read since forever ago. Whatever you do, don’t make plans with people! It’s nice to allow yourself to have some time to yourself once in a while, so seize the opportunity once it arrives.

3. Take care of your health

This is an obvious one, but still a very important one. We all know the things we need to do to stay healthy, so just do them! You will find out that in the long run, everything you don’t do in order to ‘be more efficient’ will come and bite you in the ass. Sleep less so you can cram those last lectures in before the exam tomorrow and start studying for the exam after? Great, but now you’re so tired that by the time you get home you have no energy to focus on anything. Eat takeaway so you save time on cooking and cleaning dishes?Brilliant, except now your immune system is off and you’re coming down with the flu. Skip your workouts because you’re really tired and just want to Netflix a bit before you start the next dreadful assignment? Yeah, lovely, but now you’ll have even less energy than before. Bottom line is: try to be a bit more disciplined. Many of the things I mentioned above will give you gratification in the long term, as opposed to the short-lived gratification you get from doing the things you would rather do in the moment. You can also kill two birds with one stone by taking a weekly sports class (thus giving you more structure!).

4. Plan a get away

Sometimes, you deserve to have some time away from everything: So take it! Gather up a bunch of your equally stressed out friends and plan a small getaway trip for the weekend. Sometimes taking some time off from the things you are so worried and stressed about offers you a new perspective on those same things, making it easier to cope with them once you get back.

So there you have it: Four ways in which I try to keep my sanity while studying in Amsterdam. Most importantly, try to remember that nothing is the end of the world. While many things can seem stressful or worrying as a student, you still have your whole life ahead of you to figure out how you are going to do the things that you want.