May is one of the most stressful months of the year for college students nationwide. It’s a time filled with final papers, final projects, and final exams. I’m currently in the midst of finishing up my sophomore year of college, and I also struggle with mental illness. Finals time is stressful enough on its own, and adding mental illness into the mix can make it much harder to cope. I’ve learned that while doing well in school is important, maintaining my mental health is more important.
Here are five ways that you can prioritize mental health during finals week:
1. Before starting school work, practice a mindfulness exercise.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the plethora of studying and assignments that need to be done during finals week. One way to reduce the risk of becoming overwhelmed is by practicing mindfulness prior to starting the work. My preferred way of doing this is by using the Breathe+ app for 2 minutes. I change the settings to make the inhale 4 seconds, the first hold 7 seconds, the exhale 8 seconds, and the second hold 0 seconds. For this particular breathing exercise, the tip of your tongue should remain pressed against the back of your top front teeth, when you inhale it should be through your nose, and when you exhale it should be through your mouth and audible. This type of breathing activates the body’s natural relaxation response, and it allows you to connect your mind and body before starting to work.
2. Take breaks for meals.
When you’re bogged down by deadlines and lack of time, forgetting to leave time for meals often occurs. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, remembering and prioritizing meals is even more important. Schedule time for each meal, even if you can only set aside 20 minutes. Fueling your body will allow you to complete your work much more effectively.
3. Set boundaries for how much time you will spend doing work.
Schedule how much time you will devote to studying/assignments each day. By setting aside a specific amount of time and respecting those boundaries, you allow your mind ample time to relax. I typically do 2 hours of homework or studying per night, and I try to limit myself to 4 hours maximum.
4. Respect your sleep schedule.
We live in a society that is chronically overworked, and this is especially true for students. Try to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, even if it means you have a little less time for schoolwork. Your brain needs time to unwind, and so does your body! I also recommend limiting screen time before bed. I try to stop using my phone 30 minutes before I plan on going to sleep. If you struggle with being able to fall asleep, try a sleep meditation! Here’s one that I learned in therapy that I do every night: Breathe deeply and slowly. On each exhale, count down starting from 9, ending at 0. Repeat this, but starting at 8, then 7, and so on until you fall asleep.
5. Leave time for the things that you love.
During finals week, I usually feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to be able to complete assignments, study, and still have time for the things that I enjoy. I’ve learned the importance of “budgeting” my time so that I can have time left to do things I love. Each night before I go to bed, I write out my schedule for the next day in my planner. I make sure to plan out specific time for meals, time for schoolwork, and time for self-care. It’s important to make time for enjoyable activities, whether it be watching Netflix, playing a video game, or anything else, even if it’s only for 20 minutes a day. Your mind will thank you!
These are my tips for prioritizing your mental health during finals week. I hope they help you, and remember that summer vacation is within reach!