It's that magical time of year - and, no, I'm not talking about Christmas. For students young and old, final exams are looming in the near future as the last hurdle between the overwrought academic and that blissful few weeks of holiday vacation.
But finals week doesn't have to be all doom and gloom, and there are several ways you can (dare I say it?) even enjoy the time and take care of yourself during it all. Here are five ways to thrive during finals:
1) Get plenty of shut eye - This is of the utmost importance. Don't be fooled by the glamour of all-nighters. They are not glamorous. At the end of it you're delirious, wavering between exhaustion and caffeine overdose, no more educated on a subject than when you began. Defer those extra hours of studying for a reasonable bedtime and a solid eight hours of sleep. You went to class (hopefully). You did your assignments (again, hopefully). You know everything you need to know, and no amount of last-minute cramming can make up for that. Give your brain the nourishing, detoxifying rest it needs and go to sleep.
2) Eat a great pre-test meal - My mom was the queen of pre-test meals. When I was in intermediate and high school, she would always send me on my way before an exam with a hearty, breakfast rich in nutrients to keep me satiated and alert. On particularly big occasions - like when I took the ACT or SAT - I'd get the royal breakfast treatment plus a little extra something to take with me to the test: an apple, a bit of chocolate, some almonds. I carried that tradition with me through my first undergraduate degree and it served me well. In preparing your pre-exam meal, choose foods that will give you a balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat, as all three of the macronutrients are useful for brain health, hunger management, and mental acuity. Don't overload yourself, as a big meal right before a couple of hours in a quiet room will likely put you to sleep. And be kind to your mid-test self - if you're able, bring a little chocolate or a peppermint to suck on during the test to keep you alert and quell any exam anxiety.
3) Treat yo' self - Finals week is a good enough time as any to be engage in a little extra self love. Book a massage on the evening of a long study day, go out for a pedicure, or plan a dinner date with friends at a fun restaurant. There's no glory in sucking it up and wearing yourself out, trying to get through the marathon of final exams without any indulgences or distractions - that will only lead to more physical and mental stress, which is the last thing any of us need at the end of the year. Plus, when the end of the semester comes and you're feeling worn thin, it's nice to have some pampering to get you back into fighting shape.
4) Get moving - We've all been there. You've been sitting in the same position, in the same carrell in the dark basement of the library for what feels like weeks. Your backside is permanently squashed flat. Your eyes are crossed from reading and diagramming and coding for hours upon end. What you need is some good, old fashioned exercise to get your blood circulating and your body back in touch with how its meant to feel - alive. It doesn't have to be complex or even strenuous, as a simple walk can be all that stands between you and a mental breakdown during finals week. Bonus if you get friends involved for added stress relief and community connection.
5) Set an end goal or reward - You've worked hard all semester because you've held one or many goals in your mind, so put that same philosophy to good use this week. Look at the assignments and exams that you have left until you're finished with the semester. Assess your workload. Then set a goal or reward that you will reach or achieve at the end of that timeframe. Perhaps your goal could be to get all A's in your classes, or knock that really hard chemistry final out of the park. The achievement of that goal is enough of a reward in itself. Or, if you're more materially/physically motivated, schedule a reward for yourself to celebrate the completion of a semester well done. Maybe that's a trip, a new item purchased, a spa day, or a long day in your PJs, watching Netflix in bed with no other commitments. Decide what is right for you and look forward to it.
I'd love to hear about your strategies for thriving during finals week. I've already had one bachelor's degree in which to make mistakes and learn all of these lessons, and in this second round I'm doing my best to put these tips into practice and take my own advice. Good luck on exams for all my fellow students out there - you can do this!