The end of the semester is quickly approaching, and you know what that means – final exam time! And with final exams around the corner, you know that stress isn’t too far behind. Below are some self-care and stress management tips that might help you better manage your mental health during this time of increased studying.
Please note that the strategies below are from a form of therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT teaches you skills to better manage emotions, tolerate distress, and be more mindful, all while balancing acceptance of yourself while trying to make positive change. Though this form of therapy was initially created to help specific mental health disorders, these strategies are applicable to almost everyone. You will also find that DBT loves its acronyms, so get ready for a lot of acronym-heavy skills 🙂 Happy studying!
Are you taking care of your physical self during this time? These are strategies that will set you up to be in a better emotional state, allowing you to more effectively do the things you need to be doing (i.e. studying for finals!). Taking care of your body and reducing vulnerabilities will help you to be better prepared to tackle things that may be mentally and emotionally draining. PLEASE be kind to your body!
- PL– Treating physical illness: Are you taking care of yourself if you are getting sick or have a chronic medical condition? Are you visiting the health center if needed? Are you taking your medicines as prescribed?
- E– Eating: Are you eating 3 meals a day? Are your meals balanced and nutritious? Are you eating healthy snacks in between meals to keep you fueled?
- A-Avoid mood-altering substances: Are you refraining from substances that will impact your focus and productivity? Are you limiting your alcohol use? Are you limiting your caffeine use to at least six hours before bedtime?
- S-Sleep: Are you maintaining good sleep habits? Are you going to bed on time? Do you have a good bedtime routine? Are you getting enough sleep?
- E-Exercise: Are you getting some exercise in between study sessions? Are you taking movement breaks and getting outside for a walk? Are you making time for the gym?
Are you being kind to yourself in the weeks leading up to finals? This is a strategy you can use to nurture yourself during times of stress. This involves identifying things that are comforting to you in each of the five senses. Some people find it helpful to gather up these items ahead of time and make a small kit for themselves so that they already have these items to turn to and use when stress arises. Here are a few ideas for each of the 5 senses:
- Smell: Essential oils, like lavender or eucalyptus; a nice smelling candle or lotion; a room spray
- Taste: Gum, mints, or hard candy in a flavor you enjoy; a piece of chocolate; tea bags or a packet of hot chocolate
- Touch: Fabric or material that you find calming; fidget toys; a soft blanket
- Vision: Pictures of things you enjoy – nature, animals; magazines; a book of poetry
- Hearing: A list of songs that you find calming; an Ipod with a playlist
Are you finding that you are starting to get overwhelmed? Are you noticing that your frustration tolerance is low or that you are struggling to manage the many demands of final exam time? STOP what you are doing! This is a skill to help you slow down, calm down, and be more mindful.
- Stop: When you notice increasing distress, do not react. Stop what you are doing for a moment – freeze in place and don’t react. Stay in control and name the emotion you are experiencing.
- Take a step back: Allow yourself to step back from the situation to give yourself time to calm down and think. Take a deep breath and continue doing some breathing exercises until you feel like you are in good emotional control.
- Observe: Make observations of what is going on inside and around you. Notice your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, as well as the words and actions of others. Simply observe and gather facts of your situation.
- Proceed mindfully: Return to your situation mindfully, asking yourself, What will make this situation better or worse? What can I do that will improve my stress?
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