Caring for Yourself in Finals Season

Many of us came to college baby-faced and optimistic, some of us already possessing mental health issues, some of us growing into them, and some of us getting a delightful one-two punch of both. ‘Self-care,’ according to social media, is face masks and long soaks in the tub. While that definitely can constitute self-care, often the reality isn’t as romantic. Sometimes, self-care is taking a shower after a depressive episode. Sometimes, it’s sitting in the sunshine for five minutes. Sometimes, it’s taking a mental health day and skipping class. ‘Self-care’ is nuanced and specific to the self involved in the care.

For the first and perhaps most important part of self-care, focus on your Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. How is your breathing? Are you taking nice breaths, expanding your diaphragm and whatnot? Have you eaten something in the last four hours, or if you just woke up, is your body telling you it’s hungry? When was the last time you had water? Do you feel safe in your shelter of choice? Is it a comfy temperature? Are your clothes comfortable or do you need to change? Perhaps, most importantly, do you need a nap — you’re a Truman State University student, you do. Start at the base of the pyramid, the psychological needs, and check that you are fulfilling those to the best of your capabilities, then work your way up.

Throughout my time at Truman, I’ve always kept myself pretty busy. For my rampant ADHD brain, this usually is good for me. However, sometimes, I run into something called ‘time poverty.’ Time poverty is the absence of time to spend on yourself, and it can be just as damaging to the psyche as financial poverty. If you’re feeling burnt out, and you’re a Truman student, so you probably are, try taking just five minutes a day to read a book on your TBR list, watch some Instagram reels or work a bit on one of your hobbies. You might just start feeling better. Taking those intentional few minutes will be worth it, I promise.

Dedicating time to yourself is a great place to start with self-care, but it’s just the beginning. There are little daily things you can do to bring some light back into your life. Many of you will scoff at this, and you are correct for that, but make your bed. Yep, you’ve heard me. Make. Your. Bed. It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning; it doesn’t even have to be in the morning. At some point in your day, make your bed. You don’t have to make it well; just straighten out those pillows and smooth out the comforter, look at the little oasis of calm, breathe in, breathe out, and check in with yourself. Do you feel better? If you don’t, that’s ok! Not every self-care tip works for every person. Try one of these other tips, and if none work for you, there’s the whole Internet to go to.

I like trying to clean one thing every day, not a deep clean, but just a little one. Maybe I wash a dish or two or maybe I chom-chom — it’s like a lint roller’s hot older sister that came back for summer vacation — the living room furniture, perhaps I spray some cleaner in the shower. Maybe I just put my shoes back in the vague area they go in. Either way, this little task makes me feel better and like I have a small amount of control over my life. Reclaiming your space, even if it’s just a tiny portion, might make studying for that final a little bit easier.

Sleep is an essential part of self-care, and it’s probably the thing no college student gets enough of. After four years of varying degrees of exhaustion — including, once upon a time, staying up for about three days straight, mostly by accident — do not do that; that is not self-care, that is self-destruction. I can, with reasonable confidence, say that the amount of sleep is less significant than the routine of sleep. What do I mean by that? I try to go to bed and wake up within the same two-hour window, so I consistently get roughly the same amount of sleep. I have a bedtime and morning checklists; I run my week based on work mornings and retinol nights, and that works for me. That might not work for you, and that’s fine. Every ‘self’ in self-care needs different care.

I highly recommend spending some time at least once a week, if not daily, on a creative project. Letting your mind slip out of school or work mode into music or art or writing mode can be a very healing process. As an English major, I am constantly writing, but I still write for fun nearly every day, just so my brain does something else for a few moments. These moments of creativity give me enough of a spark to keep going; if that’s not self-care, I don’t know what is. 

Next to last but not least, and if the bed didn’t get you, this will. Try to move around for at least five minutes if you don’t have thirty. Many of us have had unpleasant experiences with exercise. Believe me, I know. However, what has taken me a long time to learn is that exercise, when designed by you for your needs, isn’t the worst. A ringing endorsement, I know, but I’ve found that even just a little walk around the block or doing some stretches can boost my mood and energy enough to get me through the rest of the day. To those of us with chronic pain and health issues, this time of the year isn’t kind to us — the Kirksville damp is really something. I see you. I am one of you, and I have found that the pain that comes after a bit of exercise — I’m talking muscle soreness mostly — distracts from the everyday pain, which is a nice break. 

For my last suggestion, I present meditation. Meditation, with my gremlin brain, does not work for me, but it works for many other people. Again, self-care is dependent on the self in need of care. If you’re getting a little overwhelmed, light a candle — optional — get comfy, and try meditation. All of our brains, gremlin or otherwise, could probably use a nice break, and all of us, gremlin or otherwise, could definitely use a moment to breathe.

Self-care is an often romanticized subject, but in actuality, it is a very simple thing. Self-care is finding the care that you need in your life and providing it for yourself. It can be extravagant if that’s what you need, but it can also be as simple as a quick nap. As we move into finals season, and for many of us, the dreaded holiday season, I want you to direct a little attention to your care. Drink some water, have a snack, block your great-aunt on Facebook, and study away. You’ve got this.