Let me be clear, I am not a medical professional. I’m actually kind of a giant idiot. A giant, anxiety-ridden idiot. I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression while going to school for almost 5 years now. Through my many successes, and many more failures, I’ve put together some tips on how I’ve been getting through school while managing my mental health.
I find, for me, that anxiety is something that can be helped by environmental factors, which is why I’ve chosen to include the somewhat cliche sleep, eat, exercise tips! I’ve also kind of tailored this list to my own anxiety, and the preventative measures I take. That being said, I hope this can help people with whatever kind of mental health issues they’re going through, to some extent!
Obviously if you’re going through something, don’t just take this list and be done with it. Please find someone to talk to, and take care of yourself. Whether that means going on medication, seeing a counsellor, or asking for extensions, accommodations, even dropping out, you have to put yourself first.
1. Sleep. I know everyone says this. But they say it for a reason! Not only is there some proof that memories of things we learn throughout the day are consolidated while we sleep, but not sleeping will seriously fuck with your head. And things that fuck with your head will do your mental state no favours. And you see where I’m going with this.
2. Exercise. AGAIN, I know everyone says shit like this. But it’s one of those things that people say for a reason. Whether it’s going for a run, doing a yoga class, having a dance party, or killing a man, you gotta get that blood pumping, and those endorphins going. It’ll make you a whole lot less anxious, you’ll sleep 742% better, and you’ll find that you learn things way more quickly and easily.
3. Don’t eat too badly. Another thing that you’ve heard 8 million times before! I know it’s tempting to live on vending machine food and coffee, but try to make an effort to keep the food thing on track. For me, a lot of my anxiety is rooted in my body image, and when I start to eat shitty, I start to freak out about that more than the millions of things I have to do for school. Keeping the food and fitness thing on lock down just takes that source of stress out of the equation for me. On top of that, the sugars and bad things in junk food will not help with your mental state. Obviously, a 2AM McDonalds run is very necessary sometimes, but try to keep it to a minimum.
4. Try to avoid over-caffeinating. I know this seems counter-productive, but I speak from experience here (again), when I say that it’s better to be a little more tired, but a lot more chill. If you drink too much coffee, you could get more anxious, and that’s not going to lend itself well to productivity. I’ve had many a panic attack caused by too much caffeine, and it’s no fun, and no good for getting any work done. You also don’t want to be laying in bed hours after you’re done studying, still feeling like the energizer bunny (referring to #1).
5. Keep up with readings and coursework throughout the term. I’m going to make this mean two things. The first being, don’t try to learn a whole semester in a night. That’s a guaranteed way to have a mental breakdown, and get a shitty mark. Number two, is to keep up with your regular readings even while studying for midterms or exams in other classes. Don’t throw everything else to the wayside just because you have one assessment coming up. That will just leave you with 3-4 classes to catch up on after, when you probably would rather just relax for a few days after all of the hard work you put in studying!
6. Make sure you’re not seeing anything for the first time when you start studying. This is kind of an add on to the previous one. Keep up with your readings, try to make sure you understand the concepts as you learn them in class. It makes for a way easier time studying when it come time. Also, if you’re an anxious mess by the end of the semester like I usually am, learning things with an anxious brain is much more difficult to say the least, sometimes impossible. This will help to take some of that out of the equation.
7. Start studying earlier than you think you need to. Waaaaay earlier. Give yourself time for bad days. I’ve started studying for my physiology final 2 weeks before, and have already had 3 shitty, unproductive days this week. Starting stupidly early is a lifesaver, because having a bad day is less of a big deal. You’ve got tons of time to get back on track and not be rushing at the last minute.
8. Don’t take the bad days personally. You’ve probably been working your butt off all semester, and your brain is probably more susceptible to the crappy effects of anxiety and depression than it was at the beginning of the year, speaking from experience. This ties in really well with the previous tip! Give yourself tons of time, and then a bad day is no big deal, and nothing to feel bad about.
9. Alternate late and early nights when studying. Don’t try and pull 5 all nighters in a row. Just don’t. Why would you do that. Love yourself. I’ve found that alternating between late and early nights is a nice mix of banging out a good 8 hours of studying and really getting through a big chunk of my work, and then getting to spend a day recovering, and letting all of the knowledge you’re acquired the night before sink in a bit more.
10. Alternate light and heavy study days. This goes hand in hand with the above tip! It’s the same idea, spend one day working your butt off, and the next day doing some cooking or cleaning, go to the gym, getting some sleep. Obviously you’re still going to get a few hours of work in, but this way you’ll be ready for another intense-slash-late night tomorrow.
11. Don’t try to study 24/7. I have friends who do this, and I also used to do this. It’s an A+ way to burn yourself out way too quickly. I’ve found it’s better to use smaller amounts of time more effectively than just overloading your brain and burning yourself out. If I don’t have class until 1 on a given day, I don’t just study al morning, go to class and then keep studying for the rest of the night. I usually spend the morning working out, doing some cooking, anything not school related. For me, stuff like that is a huge stress reliever, and I find that when I go to study after class, I feel way more rested, and way more ready to sit down and power through whatever I’m working on. It’s one of the more tempting things, and I know the feeling very well, but try to resist.
12. Put in your late nights and all-nighters before your final. As in not the night before. I’ve got a final next friday, and I’m going to be aiming to be in bed by 10 wednesday and thursday. Try to study so that you can almost have a work-load that winds down the closer you get to exams. If you’ve gotta pull the all nighter, pull it with a few days to spare before your exam so you can catch up on sleep and not show up to write it like a zombie.
13. Set aside extra time for things you know you have trouble with. I fucking suck at many of the things I’m learning in many of my classes. Don’t try and learn those things in one go, review them as you study the rest of your material, and then make time to come back to them later. I’ve found that repeated exposure is a biiiig help in understanding and remembering things, and it’s just one more way to give that anxious brain of yours one more advantage.
14. Accept that you’re not going to know everything. Crazy, right? I’ve gone into exams straight up having not studied parts, and still coming out with an average 20 points higher than the class. That is absolutely not something you should do, it is just me humblebragging. Knowing how to do multiple choice tests, knowing what the course expects of you, and being a generally well prepared student will help you more than trying to cram every last fact into your head.