Finals week: the end of the semester is in sight, the weather is finally warming up and summer is just around the corner. All that’s left is a week or so of intense stress, long days and nights packed with studying and far too much caffeine. Finals and stress go together like The Bachelor and drama, and often we tell ourselves nothing is more important than acing that last test. But on the way to success, we sometimes sacrifice taking care of ourselves, assuring ourselves self-care is a luxury we can’t afford to think about at a time like this. However, self-care is essential to performing well on finals. If we feel our best, we can study and test our best.
Here are a few ways to take care of yourself during finals week so you can walk into your test feeling confident and focused and walk out knowing you did awesome.
1. Keep up your normal self-care routines
Often during the busy finals season simple things like showering become luxuries that we convince ourselves we don’t need. In the end, however, those 15 minutes that we “save” just hurt us later on.
“Some women skip basic beauty habits like washing their hair, telling themselves they have no time for such things during finals,” says Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author Carole Lieberman, M.D. “And, although you can skip spending hours doing your makeup, you will waste time feeling bad about yourself if you don’t keep up the basics.”
Keep your normal hygiene routines up, and you’ll feel better all around. Plus, your study mates will probably thank you.
2. Eat nutritiously
Eating well nourishes both your body and mind. According to Lieberman, the time you think you save for studying by grabbing junk food from the machines instead of going to the cafeteria can actually hurt you in the long run.
“Don’t eat terrible food and blame it on finals,” says Darby Pedersen, a freshman at the University of Missouri.
Getting proper nutrients will help your brain function effectively and will keep you full and satisfied so you aren’t distracted by a grumbling stomach while studying.
3. Get adequate amounts of sleep
Sleep: the ultimate collegiate luxury. It seems we can never get enough—even during the regular school year—no matter how hard we try. But once finals week hits? Forget about it.
“The biggest thing is to not change your sleep schedule too much,” Darby says. “If you usually go to bed at midnight, don’t suddenly start going to bed at 3 a.m.”
Our peers convince us we don’t need sleep, and it’s almost like a competition to see who can stay up the latest to study. However, according to Katrina Conrad, assistant director for student well-being at the University of Notre Dame, pulling all-nighters is one of the biggest mistakes students make. “Getting the appropriate amount of sleep is critical for memory consolidation,” says Conrad. “Therefore, if you're cutting your sleep, you could be adding a barrier to your own learning process.”
Seven to nine hours of sleep is the ideal amount for optimal performance. While that might seem like too many hours of studying to spare, your studying will be of a higher quality to compensate for the shorter quantity.
4. Get active
Nothing clears your mind like a good sweat session. While you may be tempted to use finals as an excuse to skip out on the gym for a week, try to stop in a couple times just to give your brain a break. “Continuing normal physical activity routines can be excellent for stress relief,” Conrad says.
Plus, you can get your Netflix fix by watching your favorite guilty pleasure while on the treadmill or elliptical.
5. Go for a walk (with intention)
If you just don’t have the energy for a full on workout or if you have been sitting stationary at your desk for hours, try going for a short walk around campus.
“It’s super important to not hole up indoors for 72 hours at a time,” Darby says. “You need to go outside.”
Conrad advises to walk with intention; notice the world around you, outside the library. Take in the beauty of your college campus and remember why you’re working so hard in the first place.
6. Try mindfulness or meditation
These techniques are great stress relievers and give your mind a chance to recharge and refocus. Starting your day off with a short meditation or mindfulness exercise sets you on track for productivity and memory recollection. If you’ve never tried mindfulness or meditation before, there are lots of great apps that lead you through short, guided sequences. Try HeadSpace or Calm.
7. Make your study breaks intentional
One thing Conrad emphasizes is on the importance of intention. “The ultimate self-care is finding balance within life's imbalance and being compassionate towards oneself,” she says. “Taking the time to intentionally find balance for yourself, especially in challenging times, demonstrates self-compassion.”
Make your studybreaks intentional, rather than just moments of weakness for you to scroll through Instagram. Use that time to engage in something that you love to do, even if it's only for a short period of time during your long study sessions.
8. Be kind to yourself
Self-care is practicing self-compassion, something college women don’t always make the time to do. If a friend was having trouble, we would react with support and kindness, but when we find ourselves in that situation, we don’t always show ourselves the same level of care.
“Self-compassion is simply compassion turned inward,” Conrad says. “It refers to the tendency to be reassuring toward ourselves and tolerant of our mistakes, rather than being harshly self-critical. Practicing self-compassion enhances well-being by helping us cope more effectively with stress and easing our fear of failure.”
Calm your nerves once in a while with a deep breath and remind yourself of your many strengths. You deserve the support you give others, and in fact you need it to perform at your best. Do things that make you feel confident instead of increasing your fear of failure.
9. Incorporate power naps
Naps aren’t just for toddlers (or Corinne from The Bachelor). Power naps are real, and they are effective. A 20-minute nap is the ideal length for a short recharge for your mind, and can even help you better retain the information you’ve been poring over for hours.
10. Don’t panic
Looking at the massive amount of material you still have to go over and wondering how you will ever understand or remember any of it can set anyone into full-blown panic mode.
“As finals approach, many college women go into ‘panic mode’ and stop taking care of themselves,” Lieberman says. “They think they need to spend every minute sitting and studying, and forget that their well being affects their grades.”
Panicking does not actually help you do better. It just distracts you and keeps you from using your energy efficiently. Don’t let the daunting task ahead intimidate you. Take a deep breath, focus and take it one step (and page) at a time.
11. Check out de-stress events on campus
A lot of the time, campus clubs or university centers will conduct de-stressing events throughout finals week. Keep an eye out for flyers and Facebook events with free food, games, yoga and sometimes even puppies. Remember what we said about taking intentional study breaks to do something you enjoy.
12. Prioritize self-care daily, not just during stressful times
Often self-care gets pushed aside during our daily routine because there’s a misconception that it’s some kind of privilege that we just don’t deserve or don’t have time for. “Taking care of yourself—your physical health, stress level and other emotions—should be a year-round habit, not just for finals,” Lieberman says.
Post-finals week, if you find something that was helpful, don’t just forget about it until December rolls around. “Once you find something that works for you, work it into your regular routine and don't let it be the activity that gets cut out of your schedule when you get busy or stressed,” Conrad suggests. “Simply remember to be kind to yourself and give yourself time for you, especially during higher stress times.”
Self-care allows us to be at our best and most confident, both during and after finals week. It shouldn't be something that only gets prioritized when we are stressed.
“Make a list of the things you want to incorporate into your life to be at peak performance all the time, and schedule time for exercise, social support, meditation, vitamins and so on into your day,” Lieberman says.
Take a breath, take a walk, take a break or take a shower. Do whatever you need to feel refreshed, and then hit the books!