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!
“IMPROVE” the Moment
Is your stress rising and you feel like you need to do something to better your situation? Improve the moment by putting a pause on your studies and trying one of these strategies. Engaging in one (or more) of these approaches will help you get back on track in a more positive mindset.
- Imagery: Go to a safe/happy place in your mind. This can be any place that brings you a sense of calm and peace. Or, visualize yourself coping well with your stress.
- Meaning: Can you find meaning in your distress? Focus on what is important to you, your strengths, and what you might learn from the challenges you are experiencing. Connect your current studies to your values and your larger goal of why you are pursuing a college education.
- Prayer: Some students find it helpful to pray for the strength to get through difficult moments, or to connect with a higher power.
- Relaxation: Do something that is relaxing to you so you can get back to your studies in a calmer state. This might be some breathing exercises, taking a warm shower, getting into nature, or practicing some yoga.
- One Thing: Practice mindfulness by focusing on one thing in the moment unrelated to your source of stress. Sometimes you may find your mind wanders to the past or the future. Try to focus on something (it could be on your cup of coffee, the books in the library, something within your view) without judgment. If your mind wanders, notice this and bring your attention back to the present.
- Vacation: Allow yourself a “mini-vacation” before returning to your studies. Take a short break to do something you enjoy before returning to your studies. Some ideas might include taking a walk in the woods, sharing a coffee with a friend, watching a TV show you enjoy, and doing something creative.
- Encouragement: Give yourself a pep talk! We can all be hard on ourselves, especially during times of stress. Engage in some positive self-talk through encouragement, affirmations, mantras, and reminders about your strengths. Say this out loud or write it down to refer to again later.
* For more on IMPROVE Skills
IMPROVE as stress management article
IMPROVE the moment – How to make crises bearable article
Cope Ahead Plan
Have you planned ahead what skills you will use and when? It is helpful to come up with a written plan for how you will manage anticipated stress ahead of time! Here are the steps to include in your plan:
- Describe what it is that you anticipate will be stressful about time. Get as specific as you can about what you think will create stress during this time. Do you anticipate certain classes/subjects to be more stressful? Or a specific type of exam?
- Identify what coping strategy you will use if/when this situation arises. What strategies have worked for you before? Feel free to refer to some of the above strategies listed! Again, be specific about what skills you will use when stress arises.
- Visualize yourself in this situation, and rehearse in your mind you coping well! Practicing this in your mind will allow you to access these skills and cope more effectively when the situation arises. Engage in some relaxation following these steps.
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