Five Ways to Rock the Last Month of the Semester

Because you can, and you will.

As a graduate student, I'd like to think I know a thing or two about staying sane and successful during the final weeks of a semester. This time of year is precarious and weird, marked by projects and exams that hold an intimidating sway over final grades. A good outcome is possible, but only if we give ourselves what we need. And, it turns out, it's very easy to forget what we need. Here are some self-care reminders.

Innovation and discovery abounds in the Engineering Research Center, one of the facilities for the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Now that spring is here, flowers are popping up across campus. As trite as it may sound, take a moment to stop and enjoy the blooming flowers and budding trees.

1. Your Thoughts Are Important

We often underestimate the power of a single thought. Thoughts, as small and irrelevant as they may seem, create our reality and, ultimately, who we are. Our life is made up of moments—or rather, our perception of those moments—strung together by thought after thought, creating the tapestry of our existence. What we think becomes what we say becomes what we do and becomes, well, everything.

Most simply said, the thoughts we think are important.

If you can't think of any good thoughts (like me, almost every Monday morning), here are some affirmations you can remind yourself of daily. Write them down, say them out loud, hold them carefully in your mind and acknowledge their truth.

  1. Today is not yesterday, today is new. I have a clean slate, a new chance, to do what I need to do.
  2. My mind must arrive at the destination before my life does.
  3. Not everything and everyone is meant for me, but as long as I am trying my best, what is meant for me will find me.
  4. Little efforts and intentions, practiced daily over and over, create big change.
  5. Life is going to get a little messy. That's okay. Embrace the mess.
  6. Keep going. No matter what, keep going.

2. Strive For Balance, Avoid Extremes

Whereas grad school me is now thriving in the realest sense of the term, undergrad me was not—she was sorely misguided in the realm of good study habits, among other things. But the mistakes she made led to some key lessons I now understand and live my life by. Perhaps the most important lesson: Extremes, when practiced in daily life, do not get you anywhere. They drain you and hold you back from accessing your true potential.

As an undergrad, I was under the false impression that staying up all night studying meant you were, in fact, thriving. Even better if you skipped multiple meals and instead chugged energy drinks (in my case, packs of skittles and mocha lattes) to sustain an adequate life force. Didn't long bouts of studying at asinine nocturnal hours equate to deep academic dedication? The more you suffered the more success you'd attract, because the universe recognizes and appreciates your martyrdom, and so on.

It took me a long time to learn something quite simple. The universe does not care how much you suffer. A rested mind that studies for thirty minutes surpasses a fuzzy mind that studies for hours. Your professors are not evaluating the number of hours you spent writing or researching or studying, they are evaluating the quality of the finished product.

It is in your best interest to take good care of yourself as you get your work done, because the work must get done regardless.

A fountain that looks like steps with water running down, surrounded by trees, on UC's Campus Green.

Don't underestimate the benefit of taking short mental breaks and moving your body. Get out of your room and step outside. Enjoy the greenspaces on UC's campus or take a short walk through Burnet Woods.

3. Do Not Forget the Little Things

School is stressful and busy. This, for the most part, will not change. Being unhappy amidst the stress, however, can change. We must untangle from the craziness of the semester and remember to allow ourselves the activities that make us feel happy and re-energized. Giving ourselves the gift of little pleasures is an act of self-love that both sustains us and makes us better versions of ourselves.

Remembering to indulge in The Little Things may include:

  1. Buying your favorite candy from the Easter clearance aisle.
  2. Bubble baths, bubble baths, and more bubble baths. Or a really long, hot shower. Whatever floats your boat.
  3. Remembering to take at least ten minutes out of your day to simply log out, unplug, unwind, and close your eyes. Just be.
  4. Stopping to pet every friendly dog you intercept.
  5. Buying yourself that little thing you've been holding out for (for me, fuzzy slippers and a good watch). Treat yourself.

4. Give Your Body What It Needs

In times of crazy schedules and tight deadlines, we tend to neglect our physical wellness. We are tired, overworked, and forget our bodies—and the fact that they need us as much as we need them.

But how are you supposed to do well if you don't feel well? In order to operate at your highest capability, you need to treat your body with the utmost care.

The two best things you can remember to do for your body during hectic times? Hydrate and sleep. These habits may seem laughably simple, but their importance outshines all else, strikingly so. Not only does staying hydrated and getting enough sleep sustain your physical wellbeing, but your mental wellbeing as well. You will have more energy, feel less anxious, and actually be able to concentrate, to be fully present in your mind and body throughout your day.

Drink water obsessively; keep a full water bottle or glass at hand always. Prioritize sleep; make it a part of your daily schedule and practice sleep hygiene (yes, it's a thing). We are not vampires, you guys. Nor cacti. Let sleep and water save you, and provide your body with what it requires.

A master's student in a graduation cap and gown celebrates by raising her fist in the air.

Give Future You a gift: take care of yourself now to ensure that you'll be in good shape by the end of the semester.

5. If You Need Help, Ask for It

Every grad student has moments where everything gets to be a little Too Much. As in, your thesis doesn't seem to be writing itself and you're desperately waiting for your next paycheck and that professor who you suspect hates you, really does hate you, and your significant other just ended things via email... whoa, are you freaking out? Because I'm freaking out just thinking about it.

However, there is something you can do about all this Too Much. These moments are like a bad cold. The earlier you notice the symptoms and take action, the better your recovery will be. Which is to say, you do not have to wait until things are "bad enough" and you're "freaking out" to ask for help. Sometimes, all you need is to reach out to a friend or family member and rant. Verbalizing your thoughts to someone you trust can provide a huge relief.

Other times, you may need more structured support. Many UC offices offer programs, services, and groups designed to help students deal with "typical" student problems—such as stress, work-life balance, imposter syndrome, and healthy living. Being proactive in seeking help is the best way to stay at the top of your game. Here are a few offices to turn to when you start to feel overwhelmed:

  • Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) offers Let’s Talk sessions throughout the week, at locations throughout the university. Stop by a session for an informal (but still confidential) 15 minute chat with a clinician. CAPS also offers workshops and therapy groups
  • The Student Wellness Center focuses on issues of health and wellness, from mental health to nutrition and financial wellness.
  • UC centers, such as the Women’s Center, the LGBTQ Center and the AACRC, can provide quiet havens and a much-needed support network. These centers also offer resources and programming for UC students.
  • If part of your stress is due to some kind of university-related conflict, reach out to the Ombuds Office. The Ombuds staff will listen to you and provide guidance. If you request it, they'll provide mediation or coaching.

So, as we enter April, remember to take care of yourself through these finals weeks of the semester. Practicing self-care is necessary to graduate student success for both the short term and long term. Tending to your physical and mental wellness will enable you to rock the end of the semester and start the next semester strong.

Written by Danniah Daher, Graduate Assistant to the Graduate School Office