Here it is: the definitive field guide to surviving finals week

Finals week can be the most stressful time of the year for so many students. Everything is due all at once, and on top of what already feels like a ridiculous workload, there are still the actual exams to study for. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. For those of us living with mental illness, getting overwhelmed can easily lead to shutting down entirely. There are ways to make this time easier, though. Below are some tips and tricks that I’ve found help me preserve my own mental state during finals week.

Keep a regular sleep schedule.

Studies show that trouble sleeping can bring on or worsen many mental disorders. As someone who has struggled with insomnia for many years, I’ve had to fight to achieve better sleep habits, but that fight has been worth it — I’ve definitely noticed the difference in my mental state. Finals week might make pulling an all-nighter feel like the only option, but try to establish a regular sleep schedule if you can. It really does make a huge difference. Not only will it likely make the stress of finals easier to handle, sleep helps us to retain information longer, and clears the mind when it comes time to take those pesky exams. While it’s best to develop healthy sleep habits year-round, it’s especially important in the days leading up to finals.

Limit your distractions.

Procrastination is a particular skill of mine. I’d much rather binge-watch the entirety of Gilmore Girls or spend the day reblogging every Hamilton GIF I can find rather than work on all of the assignments that I need to get done. I’m not the only one, either. But if I’m not careful, I’ll find myself stuck writing three research essays, working on an Honors Credo, and studying for final exams all in one night. It’s not a situation I would recommend, especially for someone with severe anxiety. As hard as it is, it’s best to cut out as many distractions as you can for the end of the term. Limit your social media to certain hours of the day, and tune back on the Netflix queue for a bit. Both will still be waiting for you when the summer comes. My favorite way to ensure that I’m not distracted with everything the internet has to offer is this app. You can set it to block specific websites for intervals of time while you work on what needs to get done. Find someplace where you can study, free of outside distractions, and set the timer. I promise that limiting your opportunities to procrastinate makes life much easier when it comes to getting things done on time, and not having ten things to work on the day before they’re all due will save you a lot of heartache.

Break things down.

When you have final projects, presentations, and exams to study for, it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’re like me and suffer from anxiety spirals, it can seem downright impossible. The way I counter this is by breaking up my work into manageable chunks. Start by listing off all of the major items on your to-do list, then go through each of those items and break them down into something that’s less scary. For example, take a 10 page research paper. Now divide that into smaller pieces: picking a topic, doing the research, writing the first two pages, etc.. This makes everything much less intimidating, and you can slowly tick off each task one by one. Workflowy, a web app I recently discovered,  is perfect for just this kind of thing.

Find ways to relax.

In the immortal words of Eliza Hamilton, “Take a break.” All work and no play will never be a sustainable model for life, and definitely not for finals week. Of course, this isn’t an excuse to procrastinate. Obviously there’s a huge difference between a study break and a Netflix binge. In order to avoid the latter, set some time limits for your breaks, or choose activities that can be completed in under 10 minutes. For example, YouTube has a plethora of cat videos that I find work perfectly for when my brain has turned to goo. These breaks are designed to give your mind a rest so that you don’t overextend yourself. So if you’ve been working on that final project for the past three hours, step away from the computer and reward yourself with a trip outside, or a cup of tea and a snack.

Ask for help.

Most colleges offer an array of services for their students in order to help with the stress of their curriculum. It’s always a good idea to seek out the counselling center and see if they offer free sessions to students, or check in with your RA if you need to vent to someone about all of the work you’ve been doing. That’s part of what they’re there for, and often your RA will have advice for ways to make life easier for you based off of their own experiences. It’s also a good idea to go to your professor’s office hours and let them know that you’re struggling. It’s possible that they may be able to offer you some advice, or explain a topic more fully — and showing that you care about your grade never hurts. High schools might not offer the same amount of help as colleges, but if you’re really struggling with classes there is usually a guidance counselor on campus that you can ask to speak with. It’s important to find someone to talk to when you start feeling overwhelmed. If it’s an emergency, and you need to talk with someone right away, these hotlines will connect you with people who are trained to help. School is important, but it should never come at the cost of your mental health.

Finals are hard, and every person deals with them a little differently, but hopefully these tips will help to make the end of the semester feel a little less like the final judgement day. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a week, and it’s not worth you sacrificing your mental health. You’re going to make it through. Just be smart, and remember to take care of yourselves.

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