It’s 8:30 a.m. on the Thursday of finals week. You wake up from four hours of sleep, wipe the crud from your eyes, grab some pretzels, and hop on your bike. As you make your way to your final, you realize you forgot to brush your teeth. You haven’t worn anything but pajamas for the last two days. You wander through the lecture hall and slump into an empty seat. Your sleepy eyes can barely make out the signature line on the front of the test booklet. It’s going to be a long three hours.
Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but the “Finals Zombie” I describe above isn’t actually that far from reality. At one point or another, we’ve all been guilty of kicking our wellbeing to the curb in an attempt to study a little bit more, read one more chapter of the textbook or memorize a few more theorems.
By now, it may be hard to remember the long naps, food, friends and family from Thanksgiving break. It often seems that as soon as we’re back on the Farm and back in the academic grind, the sweetness of break is just a flicker in the past. We’re good at operating in two opposite modes of being – either absolute indulgence in rest, family and friends or pedal-to-the-metal, stay-up-all-night-in-Meyer craziness. As we transition back to school this week and look ahead to finals week, I encourage you to replicate some of the relaxation and rest that I hope you found over break.
Self-care – the ability to nurture yourself in times of stress, work overload, and emotional trauma – will be a key to all of our success in the next two weeks. But what is self-care really, and how will it help you? Self care means not letting yourself slip through the cracks as you cram for exams or stay up all night to write a paper. Self-care means deciding to hike the Dish with a friend instead of pulling another two-hour shift at the library so you can get some fresh air and socialization. Self-care means calling home and talking to your family when you feel like you can’t possibly type another word or come up with another line of code. Self-care means letting yourself mindlessly surf the Internet for a few minutes (not hours) after you’ve completed a big task. Self-care may even mean making a pan of brownies for your dorm between exams or playing an impromptu game of touch football when you “really should be working.”
Self-care is different for all of us, but it will be the one thing all of us who don’t get sick, run down, or sleep deprived this finals season have in common. I realize that it may often sound like I’m advocating putting aside the books and focusing on what matters most in life (your health, happiness, relationships, life skills), and I am, but I’m really not telling you not to study. You’ll see me camped out in Green with the best of them this finals season, but I’m hoping that my self-care regimen will keep me away from the brink of absolute stress.
There are two types of self-care that can make you feel better – up-regulation and down-regulation. Up-regulating self-care includes activities that tend to make you feel more energized, excited, and fired up, such as going to a party or going for a run. These are activities that get your blood pumping and give you the strength to keep fighting through a stack of work. Down-regulating self-care includes drinking tea, talking to a friend, taking a short nap, or meditating. Walking could be up- or down-regulating, depending on whether you’re feeling sluggish or nervous. The best self-care plans incorporate both up- and down-regulating elements, preferably alternating between the two to keep you in an optimal state of calm and focus.
So as you look ahead to finals week and start making study guides, to-do lists, and timelines, don’t forget to create a self-care plan for yourself. Seriously. This may seem like a trivial exercise, but I dare you to sit down and come up with a way to fit Dish walks, coffee dates and hot showers into your schedule. Use pen, set reminders, make plans with a friend and ask them to hold you to it. Chances are, these little things you add in to take care of yourself – which seem like they should be the first to get bumped off the schedule when time gets tight – will be the difference between a healthy, happy and successful finals season and you turning into that sleep-walking, sniffling zombie we all know all too well come the end of finals.
What’s your secret to self-care success during finals week? The person who emails me the most creative response at firstname.lastname@example.org wins a Chinese finger trap! (Seriously, do it.)