You went to sleep at 4am. Now it’s 7am and your alarm is sounding from your phone in some unknown location – probably under the couch where you passed out under a stack of papers, a half-full bag of tortilla chips and your laptop. Waking up seems like an insurmountable task, but it’s time to write ten more pages, try to get to the gym and submit everything that’s due before 5pm.
For the past week, the hours of cramming have overflowed from one day into the next. You’re not sure what you’ve eaten. Whatever it was was most definitely chased with coffee. And more coffee. It’s finals week.
Over the past five years, I’ve had the honor of teaching yoga and mindfulness courses at some of our region’s best schools – Haverford College, Temple University, Villanova University, and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Their mindfulness/yoga classes provide students a real opportunity to take care of themselves during the semester and learn supportive self-care practices. They also provide students a space to vent and be vulnerable about the ways their habits in college can be super self-destructive. The state most people are in during finals week is often the most debilitating during a time when they need to do their best performing and finish strong.
Yes, care of yourself seems like a last priority when so much is being asked of you. But, more than your laptop, your textbooks, all your notes, etc. … YOU are your best asset. The better you care for yourself, the better everything will work out for you.
So, here’s a quick compilation of five SIMPLE ways you can take expert care of yourself during crunch time. These address some of the patterns I’ve seen across thousands of students in the past five years.
1.) Let Your Eyes Rest:
Sleep is the number one biggest challenge for most students. If you CAN get eight and take naps, you should. It’s best for the body to go to bed around 10pm so it can do all the restoration work it needs to (which starts around 10:30pm). So, try to go to sleep and wake up around a similar time each evening. And, build yourself ten minutes in every three hour period where you simply shut your eyes and let your senses rest. This will recharge you and also avoid headaches and eye strain. Discovery Magazine establishes that visual processing takes up to 30% of processing power of the cortex (vs. 8% for hearing and less for other senses). Resting your eyes also rests your brain proactively. I’m also a big fan of gamma classes if you’re spending a lot of time staring at screens (who isn’t?).
2.) Drink (MORE)Water
Hydrate Yourself. Dehydration takes a massive toll on the body and leads to headaches, fatigue, misdirected hunger, short temper, indecisiveness, confusion and irritability – not things you really want to experience when you’re working in groups, presenting a thesis or even trying to concentrate. Aim to drink 4-6 ounces (about a mug full) each hour. Trick yourself into drinking more by stashing larger quantities of water in places you spend a lot of time. A hydrated body spends less time and energy working to stave off the effects of dehydration, and more time supporting you in your study. Also make sure you are eating regularly and with variety.
3.) Take Longer Inhales
At least once an hour, but ESPECIALLY if you’re starting to feel pressure, close your eyes, reset and take five enormous inhales. Long exhales will naturally follow. The brain needs the precious oxygen from your inhales to function optimally. Think about breathing like fueling your internal supercomputer. It’s working for you right now non-stop. Like you wouldn’t drive a car long distances on empty, you don’t want the brain on long cram sessions without its fuel. Breathing deeply with your eyes closed also calms the body and clears the mind. If you get to five breaths, try for ten and increase as time allows.
4.) Innovate and Excavate
One of the things that students tell me most often is that they feel obligated to people, groups or distractions during this time – a roommate who is freaking out, a friend who’s somehow done all their work and wants to grab lunch, a peer asking to borrow your notes last minute … the list goes on. Feel comfortable prioritizing your OWN schedule and responsibilities first. Excavate anything from your life that isn’t completely necessary – decide if you REALLY need to run to Bed Bath and Beyond for a new bathroom rug or binge watching epic fail videos. If you’re constantly distracted in your home, dorm or apartment, or you can’t stop checking your phone every 18 seconds (the actual average for students!), innovate to a new space. Study outside or at a café you love. Play relaxing music in the background. Change your lighting. Innovate your environments so you can be comfortable getting to it.
5.) Make a Commitment and Let People Know
Share this dedication with your friends and family. So many students suffer silently. I had several conversations this semester with my students who were genuinely distressed and perplexed that, with all they had accomplished in their lives, they were unable to do simple self-care rituals and felt like they were flailing and failing. Let people know you’re really focusing on doing things differently! Ask for support. Let people rise around to uplift you: bring you an extra bottle of water or a tea, leave you alone when they could be bugging you with unnecessary things, remind you to close those eyes! One of my students decided to make herself a daily calendar and share it with her roommates. It included study time, gym time, sleep time, rest time, and also time for fun here and there so she kept the week lighthearted. It encouraged her roommates to do the same, and they collectively had a much different experience of a successful finals push.
Most importantly – have a good time with all this. You’re in school or college to absorb and enjoy the knowledge you’re receiving. Think about the things that really worried you a year ago – can you even remember them? The same will be true of this time once it’s passed.
Stress is often an illusion we create as a response to feeling inadequate or limited. You are plenty adequate and unlimited! Remembering this helps you let go of punishing yourself and your body because of stress. Equip yourself with these simple de-stress practices and let finals week be one of ease, presence and success. Here’s to yours!
Nadia Hopkins is an adjunct yoga and mindfulness professor, co-owner of Prana Das Yoga and a forever student of cultivating peace.