You’re at the library. You look up from your book or screen for the first time in hours and a wave of hopelessness washes over as you realize it’s long past midnight and the end is nowhere in sight. Running on nothing but a muffin, a bag of chips from the vending machine and five hours of sleep from the night before, it seems like the mental and physical exhaustion might just kill you before you can get your assignments done. It’s only Tuesday of midterm week and you’re already questioning how badly you need that diploma.
The periods of midterms and finals are undoubtedly the worst parts of the college experience. Students are overwhelmed with papers, tests and projects on top of their normal workloads, in addition to the jobs, clubs and other extracurriculars whose demands don’t slow down just because classes pick up. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the stress and let yourself live in a mental whirlwind for weeks on end, but if you want to come out with your sanity still intact and grades you’re happy with, it’s important to make self-care a priority. Here are the top five best ways to do so:
1. Make time to exercise — no matter how short or easy of a workout
Physical activity releases endorphins, aka the feel-good brain chemical, which provides stress relief for both your mind and body. Not only will it leave you more relaxed and able to sleep better at night which reduces fatigue, it helps improve your alertness and ability to concentrate during those long study sessions. Plus, it boosts your mood and self-esteem. So even if you only have time for 20 minutes on the treadmill or the energy for a light yoga class, the benefits will be well worth it.
2. Fuel yourself with proper nutrients
If you’re skipping meals and living off of snacks in the interest of having more time for schoolwork, you’re not doing yourself any favors. High-fat comfort foods like pizza, mac and cheese, candy, etc. may provide some instant gratification but will leave you lethargic and feeling the effects of a sugar crash. Pack up your things and head to a dining hall where you can get some fruits and vegetables, lean meat and rice to boost your energy levels and immune system. If you live off campus and are too short on time for grocery shopping and cooking healthy meals, see if you can coordinate with your roommates to take turns cheffing it up.
3. Switch up your study spot
Staying at the same desk in the library among boring old books and a deafening silence for hours on end is not always great for being productive. Instead, break up your work into smaller portions and find a new place to go after completing each one. Tell yourself you’ll write three pages of a paper in the library, make two chapters worth of flashcards while you eat lunch at Blue Wall, then head to the ILC (Integrative Learning Center) to write some more. Not only does this allow you short breaks to refocus your mind, it turns the marathon of work to be done into shorter sprints that seem more manageable.
4. Treat Yo’self
Take an hour to watch an episode of your favorite tv show. Spend the money to get some take-out food you love. Go walk around Target and buy a few things you don’t need. See your friends. These little rewards will go a long way when the only thing you have to look forward to is days and days from now when all your work will slow down again. It may seem counterproductive, but the more you do to relax your mind and ease your tension, the better you’ll perform when you get back to business.
5. Plan way ahead
Every college student knows, the due dates on your syllabi are closer than they appear.
At the beginning of each semester, mark on your calendar or in your planner the dates of all tests, papers, projects and smaller assignments due. Notice when you will be most loaded with work. In the weeks leading up to those busy times when you might be experiencing a lull in your workload, start chipping away at the tasks that loom in the distance. You may scoff and roll your eyes at the professor who begs the class to start studying or working on an assignment weeks in advance, but those who listen will be jumping with joy when you’re crying in the library the night before.
It may be easier said than done, but keeping these suggestions in mind during your most stressful times is sure to pay off.
Email Alex at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @pigeon_alex.