This time of year is the hardest for any university or college student. Finals take a toll on your mental, physical, and emotional health. That stress compounded with a pre-existing mental illness can become a slippery slope, and self-care becomes of great importance. I have a few strategies that not only help me, but they can help pretty much anyone – not just someone with depression.
1. SLEEP – I have so many friends who pull all nighters and study through the night without recognizing they need to sleep. Sometimes university life does that to you, but it’s important to not make it a habit. Sleep is really important, and not getting enough can be really harmful. I start to feel my mood dip if I’m not well rested, and I need to have enough time in the mornings to get going. Early exams are the hardest because it takes me at least an hour to will myself out of bed. Yes, even though my depression is well managed, I still have a hard time finding motivation to do things in the morning.
2. TAKE BREAKS – People say Netflix should be banned during finals, or that it’s terrible luck that Game of Thrones started right when finals began, but it’s physically impossible to study allllll the time. Take breaks as needed, and reward yourself for working. You won’t be as effective if you don’t take frequent breaks to help keep your mind active. I’ve had days where I start early in the morning and don’t stop until really late at night – not necessarily by choice, more by circumstance. Either way, I’m not an energizer battery and I can’t just go, go, go forever.
3. TAKE YOUR MEDS – Okay, this tip is more applicable to me, but it’s still really important. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like taking my anti-depressants, but I really need them. Medication can be a vital part of managing a mental illness, and without it, my mood can drastically take a turn for the worse. If I don’t have my brain regulated, the natural stress of the time of year really starts to get to me.
4. SEE YOUR FRIENDS – I get really lonely. Like, really, really lonely. Not being around people makes me really depressed, because loneliness is one of the biggest parts of my depression. If I’m spending a significant amount of time alone, it gets to me very quickly. Sometimes it’s as simple as not studying at home, and studying on campus where I can run into a couple people I know. Other times, I meet up with other friends for dinner just so I can get rid of that crippling feeling of loneliness.
5. EAT PROPERLY – It’s towards the end of the year, and for many students that means they’re low on money and time. This means that a lot of students are likely surviving off of ramen and dry cereal. Eating well is absolutely necessary, if not more important than ever during this time. Take some time on one day of the week to make a LOT of food, and then keep it stored for the week so you can grab and go.
6. DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF – My mind does this thing where it likes to spiral out of control for no apparent reason over really little stuff, like so: I didn’t know the answer to question #17 –> I’m going to fail the whole exam –> I’m going to fail the whole course –> I’m not going to graduate from university –> I’m going to get kicked out of school –> I’m never going to get a good job –> I’m going to have to live with my parents forever. As you can see, this can get really exhausting if it’s constantly through your head while you’re trying to study. It’s vital that you try and let go of the littler things, and try to let go of the tough exam you just wrote while trying to prep for the next one. It’s tough, but it’s important to try.
7. TALK ABOUT IT – If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, talk to someone about it. A friend, a family member, a counselor, anyone who you think will listen. Often if we articulate what we’re feeling and thinking, we can make better sense of it to cope better. I don’t like talking about what I’m going through, but sometimes it’s necessary so that my emotions don’t get all pent up and erupt like a volcano.
Remember, you’re not alone. People all around you are feeling the same way, and there are tons of resources available to help you cope. Exams aren’t everything, and while they’re really important, your health is more important than anything else, so make sure that’s your main priority.
Keep Surviving by Living.