Explaining the Mental Drain of Finals on a Mentally-Ill College Student

     Finals suck. We all know this. We all dread this time of year. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve mastered the art of procrastinating and then working on fumes to get through every paper, project, and exam on your schedule. But, if you’re anything like me, you wish so desperately that this isn’t the way you are, that you can schedule your time and be done with your to-do list, no matter how long, by evening to just spend the night relaxing and healing in preparation for a repeat each day until the semester is over.

     But then, your procrastination leads to anxiety and stress, and you’re wrapping all of your assignments up by 3, 4, even 5 in the morning (we’ve all been there, it’s okay. I’ve been there multiple times this week alone). The anxiety, stress, and late nights lead to a decline in your mental health that you just don’t have time for, and you have a hard time studying, getting your assignments done, or prepping for the biggest exams and papers of the semester. Everything feels hard. Impossible, even. You can’t sleep, but you can’t get yourself out of bed. You feel strung-out, burned out, and absolutely fried.

     Like I said, I’ve been there. I am there, right now.

     I’ve always struggled with mental illness, and any extra stress serves to make it worse. It’s hard for me to get out of bed on “normal” days, and even more so on days when my to-do list doesn’t have an end in sight. I feel like I can’t do anything productive, because even if cleaning my bathroom, doing my laundry, going grocery shopping is necessary, it’s not exam-related. My professors don’t care if I haven’t vacuumed my bedroom in over a month, they just care about if my paper is cited in proper MLA format. They don’t know that my fridge is practically empty and I can barely scrape the energy to make it to the grocery store, but they know that my discussion board posts are (almost, more often than not) long enough to get full credit. They care that I’ve shown up for class diligently, they think I’ve taken enough notes to study, and they care about the grade at the end of the exam that has my name on it.

     But, if you’re anything like me, you spiral. Your bathroom isn’t clean, so you can’t focus on your study guides. But your study guides aren’t finished, so you feel like cleaning your bathroom is a waste of time until that time-sensitive assignment is completed. Unable to make a decision, you sit, you ponder, you toggle back and forth between TikTok and Twitter, and you internally debate the meaning of life and whether all this work is really worth it until it’s 11 PM and, shoot, I have a 400-word reading response due at midnight. You get some coffee and you submit the assignment at 11:58, somehow banging it out between adrenaline and spite, and then you muster up the wherewithal to finish your other assignments. You check the clock and it’s nearly 4 in the morning. Is sleeping even worth it at this point?

     You feel like you’re running out of time. You wonder where the line should be drawn--how much should you prioritize your assignments over your mental health? You submitted a daily grade or two on time, but you never cleaned your bathroom. Your living spaces are a wreck and you feel gross, but at least you completed a grade, right? But in the long run, college will end. Your grades won’t last forever, you won’t have to submit discussion posts for the rest of your life, but the pain of being unable to make yourself perform basic self-care tasks is something that could be incredibly detrimental to you physically and mentally. Priorities become confusing, and you don’t know what is most important in that specific moment.

     My advice is something I’ve been trying to get myself in the habit of for years, now--find structure and peace in the mundane. The mundane is what keeps me on track on days like these, which have been happening more and more frequently. Taking my dog out for her morning and evening walk. Taking an hour a week to paint my nails. Doing my skincare routine twice a day, without fail. Making my bed in the mornings. It might not feel like much because you’re not being graded on it, and it’s not as obvious when completed the way folding your laundry or deep cleaning your kitchen is, but it’s still something you’ve accomplished.

     All of your accomplishments matter. Every single one of them.

     Breaks are important for anyone during periods of extreme stress, and having any sort of pre-standing issues, whether they be mental, physical, spiritual, or whatever else may be on your plate (it’s all valid, I promise) only increases the stress and the pain, thus inducing the spiral. In times like these, we don’t have the time or energy to spiral, which, regrettably, furthers the spiral along because now you have more on your plate, and you’re trying to focus but you can’t, and it’s all too much. Find your line. Find your mundane tasks and focus on them. They help me slow down, they give me time to think and prioritize, and they keep me on track. We all have things we do regularly, so let them guide you through your day.

     And remember to breathe. Breathing is mundane, too, but productive. You’ve been breathing as you’ve read this article, haven’t you? Then you’ve accomplished something. And I’m celebrating all of your accomplishments right alongside mine.