If you are approaching finals of any kind, the next few weeks are inherently some of the most stressful of the entire year. When we feel like we are drowning in a sea of flashcards or getting caught up in a tornado of final paper drafts, moving smoothly through stress can feel way out of reach. Here are a handful of action steps that I will be attempting in order to conquer the stressors of finals season (and to be as relaxed as possible while doing so)!
1. Put … the books … down.
Just do it. Flip that pesky textbook closed. It will still be there for you after you take a much-needed breather, I promise. Burnout is real, and not taking breaks from studying is one of the best ways to get there. If you have a stroke of motivation, by all means, run with it! But, if you get a strange feeling that you are hitting a metaphorical wall, you are almost certainly right. “Taking a breather” is advice that can be taken literally; even ten deep breaths can get you back on track.
Speaking of breathing … there are as many ways to meditate as there are people who walk this Earth. If you are anything like me, the idea of sitting still and quieting your mind can be … unattractive. As many of us have learned, even two or three minutes of meditation at a time can decrease our stress and increase our ability to focus. The most useful advice I have received concerning meditation was to “get curious” about it. Play with it. Make it your own! For some guided meditations (they can be goofy, poignant, short, long, and everything in between), start by visiting good old YouTube.
3. Eat as though you care about your body.
We’re not necessarily talking about a massive shift in eating habits. “Intentionality” and “back to basics” are the names of this game. Eat foods that leave you feeling nourished rather than weighed down and – novel ideal here: (and one that I am still working on) if you’re not hungry, don’t eat! Our bodies are intricate machines that can either boost us through a long day in the library or slow us down to slug-pace by early afternoon. Centuries of research have shown that what we put into our bodies has a direct result on our cognitive functionality. As tempting as it is to stress-eat our way through finals, let’s be reminded that we can help ourselves out by snacking on fresh food instead. Our two-weeks-from-now selves will thank us!
4. Try these energy exercises.
I had the recent pleasure of attending a workshop led by a woman who splits her time between teaching law classes and practicing energy medicine. She shared with us the exercises in the link above and holy cow, they have revolutionized the last few stressful days. My favorite exercise, which is not included in that list, involves drawing an imaginary figure-eight between the front and back of your brain. Apparently, this action connects the rational, knowledge-filled front-brain with the “fight, flight, or freeze” (otherwise known as reptilian) back-brain. I know we all receive different benefits from exercises like these so, if you try them, I hope that they bring you a similar sense of comfort, ease, and refreshment.
5. Talk to people who live in a different world.
We spend so much time in our classes and offices, wrapped up in our day-to-day projects. Fortunately, there is a world full of people who are interested in and passionate about completely different things. While this can be a source of conflict, especially on miles-long Facebook comment threads, it is also a huge blessing. Instead of believing that the work we are doing is all that matters, let us – again – take a breather and get curious about the work being done by others. To get out of our own head is (hopefully) to be reminded that our upcoming exams are a mere blimp on the life radar.
6. Break a sweat.
Gyms are amazing! They are also not the only place where you can get your heart rate up and release some stress. Up here in Maine, as we prepare to be semi-permanently buried in snow, I will take almost any chance I can get to go for an outdoor run. Easy, moderate, and difficult hikes are also a great option. I love the (free!) app Nike Running Club – it provides dozens of workouts which vary in length and intensity. All you’ve got is ten spare minutes? Sounds good! There are multiple options for getting in your endorphin release before getting back to the books.
7. Laugh it off.
Are you feeling like not much humor is left in this cruel, finals-filled world? Fortunately, there are people who build their career around trying to make us laugh. Whether or not you are having a hard time getting goofy on a regular basis, check out some professional laugh-givers: Louis CK, Iliza Shlesinger, pretty much the entire SNL cast, anyone who creates silly cat videos, etc. (Alright, that last category of people may not be professionals in the field… but they should be!) Still not convinced that ha-ha-ha’ing will help all that much? Take a peek at what Mayo Clinic has to say about laughter’s magical powers.
8. Go to bed!
We all know this one. The amount of sleep required varies from person-to-person, but the benefits are invaluable. My mom recently reminded me that while we sleep, our brains are working hard to (in non-scientific terms, of course) organize all of the information we are storing so that we can be as productive as possible in our waking hours. It is like we have a personal office assistant built into our heads! How awesome is that?! Our only job is to let our head hit the pillow so that it can go to work! For science that is more solid than a conversation between two non-sleep experts, check out this short, yet information-packed article published by the University of Georgia.
Good luck, fellow-students! May the curve be ever in your favor.
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