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Ask Ainsley: Studying and self-care during finals

Dear Ainsley, 

During exam season, I’m a mess. I stay in my apartment all day trying to work, I spend hours scrolling through social media with increasing levels of stress, and my mind is a tangle of negative thoughts. I hate this. Please help.

  • Freaking Out Over Finals (FOOF)

Before I even begin, FOOF, I’m sure that you’ve heard it a million times, but I’ll make it a million and one: It’s going to be okay. It really is. Finals season brings everyone to this intense, lonely, stressful, breaking point, so know that (no matter what it may feel like) you’re not alone. Being in such a high-stress state for a long period can also lead to burnout and, having battled it a couple of times myself, I know how ugly it can get. This is a how-to guide to studying during finals season, but it’s also a guide for how to do it in a way that centres self-care. This year, get the grades and your beauty sleep. Get the marks and the moments with friends. Make finals season a love letter to you. 

1. Step Away

The first thing you’re going to want to do is step away. Close all of your tabs, swipe out of all the apps on your phone, and turn everything off. Take a breath, then another, and then another. To study to the best of your ability, you need a healthy perspective. Right now, that perspective is crowded with negative thoughts, stress, and anxiety, so set your phone’s timer for an hour and do something else. Have an ‘everything’ shower, go to the gym, or have a deep stretching session. It can be super beneficial to get your body moving but, if that’s not possible, at least get your brain moving. Give yourself a second to breathe, away from the work. Give yourself a second that isn’t riddled with stress, simply because you deserve it.

2. Make a Detailed List

Now we’re going to open that laptop back up, but not jump back into things just yet. You’re going to write down every single possible thing you have to do in order to get a particular task done. Get into detail and name all the steps between you and the finish line. Maybe the list is getting long and your freak-out-metre is starting to rev back up—but don’t stress. The list might be long, but it’s filled with tiny, manageable steps. You’ll fly through them and then be able to reward yourself with the satisfaction of checking things off your list! 

3. Study in the Best Way for You

Sometimes the biggest roadblock to getting into your flow is studying in ways that are actually blocking your flow instead. Study in the way that most excites you, feels natural, and helps you understand the content best. Here are some ideas: 

  • Flashcards 
  • Study sessions with friends (getting out of the house can work wonders)
  • Creating your own practice questions
  • Using old exam questions
  • Mind-maps 
  • Creating collages/mood boards for different topics

Be sure to take regular breaks (have you tried the Pomodoro method?) and do at least one thing every day that is purely for fun, just for you.

4. Know That This is Only One Step

You’re doing great, and are well on your way to getting your studying done. Now, one final note, possibly the most important one, is to keep sight of the fact that this is only one step in your overall academic journey. Of course the assessment matters, and you should bring your best self to it, but it’s still just one hurdle. Just one exam. Just one lab. Just one essay. It doesn’t define you. Who you become in this journey is way more important than any single step of it. 

Happy Studying!

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