Weather is colder. Anxiety is higher. End of the semester is closer. Thanksgiving is over, and the holiday season has almost begun. It’s that time of year again: Finals Season. All that’s left is a week or so of intense stress, long days and nights of studying, and way too much caffeine.
But somewhere between cramming all night for that cumulative chemistry test, procrastinating until the very last-minute to write that history research paper, and stressing about that twenty-minute psychology presentation, college students have forgotten to put their mental and physical health first. It’s time to assure ourselves that self-care is a luxury we can afford. If we feel our best, we can study and write and test our best.
And while this list is in no way comprehensive — self-care comes in so many forms that there’s really no wrong way to do it — here are several ways to practice just that during and leading up to Finals Week.
Get Enough (or Close to Enough) Sleep
This may sound cliché, but sleep is actually really important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in studying or writing or (for me) procrastinating, and the next time you check the clock it’s the five in the morning so you decide to give up on sleep completely. All-nighters are tempting, especially during Hell Week, but you should try to avoid them. Instead of using those precious hours between 2 am and 8 am to cram in more studying that you most likely won’t remember, or watching another episode of The Office, spend them snuggled up in bed under your favorite blanket. Those sweet, plentiful hours of shut-eye will help you more on that biology exam than any last-minute cramming probably will, and definitely more than Netflix will.
Or, Alternatively, Take a Nap
But if you absolutely can’t sleep a full 7 to 8 hours, napping is good, too. And the key to waking up refreshed is all about timing. Just 20 minutes is all you need to get the benefits — improved alertness, enhanced performance, and a better mood. Naps of that length keep you in the lightest stage of non-REM sleep, making it easier for you to get up and go after your snooze session. Napping for 30 to 60 minutes let you hit the deeper stages of sleep. Your brain waves slow down, making you feel groggy when you wake up. And, it’s probably not worth it to nap at all if you’re going to nap for this amount of time because you’ll likely come out of your shuteye feeling less alert than before. But if you’re lucky enough to be able to lie down for 90 minutes, your body should have time to make it through one complete sleep cycle; going from the lightest stage through the deepest stage of sleep and back again. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and should have boosted memory and creativity.
Drink Lots of Liquids
Of course, most of us need caffeinated drinks (coffee, etc.) to keep us going, especially during stressful times like this, but drinking water is good, too. Our bodies are made up of about 60% water, and staying hydrated is important (all of the time but also) when our minds and bodies are on overdrive. If you always forget to drink water, it may be wise to invest in a refillable water bottle to remind yourself. And, if you don’t like the taste of regular water and have a few cents to spare, you can order a flavored water from Sonic.
Speaking of coffee, it may be best for some to avoid it. Caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety, including jitters and a racing pulse. For those predisposed to anxiety, along with anxiety you may feel looking at the massive amount of material you still have to go over, these side effects can contribute to feelings of panic. And even without the coffee, you may still go into “full-blown panic mode.” While you may feel like once you start panicking you won’t be able to stop, just try to relax. As you might know, panicking doesn’t actually help you do better. It just distracts you and keeps you from using your energy efficiently. Don’t forget that you’re well-being affects your grades just as much as your amount of studying will. Don’t let the daunting task ahead intimidate you. Take a deep breath, focus and take it one step (or page) at a time.
Take Enjoyable Breaks
Even if you’re super busy doing the end of the semester, studying or writing papers, it’s important to find time to do something you enjoy. Whether it’s listening to music, hanging out and talking with friends, watching television, petting the Hendrix Cats, or whatever else, take some time to do that. Of course you’re going to love taking a break from studying, and if the thing you like is petting the Hendrix Cats, you know Ella or Oliver or any of the other cats are going to love it, too.
Eat Nutritiously (but also, Treat Yourself)
Nourish your mind along with your body. Whole grains, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, leafy greens, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus, red peppers, blueberries, sage, olive oil… the list is endless (and the Hendrix Caf probably has most of this). Getting proper nutrients will help your brain function effectively and will keep you full so you aren’t distracted by a grumbling stomach while studying or writing. And, of course, while eating healthy is important, after a long library session, you’re allowed to indulge a little bit. Nourishing your soul can be just as important as nourishing your body and mind, and sometimes that comes in the form of pepperoni pizza, french fries, chocolate chip cookies, ice cream (or frozen custard from Andy’s!), candy, or whatever other sweet or savory treats you like to eat.
These are all good ideas for self-care, but as I said, there are several different forms and no one knows you better than you. And, while self-care if very much needed during stressful times, it should also be prioritized during not-so-stressful times. Often it gets pushed aside during our daily routine because there’s a misconception that it’s some kind of privilege that we don’t have time for or don’t deserve. Taking care of yourself — physical health, stress level and otherwise emotional health — should be a year-round habit, not just implemented for finals.
Post-finals week, if you find something that was helpful, don’t just forget about it until December or May rolls around. Once you find something that works for you, try to work it into your regular routine. Don’t just let it be the activity that gets cut out of your schedule when you’re busy or stressed. Self-care allows us to be our best and most confident, both during and after finals week.
Just remember to be kind to yourself and give yourself time for you.