I recently bought myself a ticket to see an American Ballet Theater performance next week. I figured this would be a perfect reward, one that would incentivize me to push through these final days of stressful, draining, crazy midterms. I thought to myself, it’ll all be okay if I can just make it to that day.
This “light at the end of the tunnel” mentality seems to reign supreme here at Columbia. Talking to friends, I noticed that everyone has some event they are looking forward to at the end of their exams: a party, seeing both of Timothee Chalamet’s new movies, going home for the weekend, buying a boujee dinner. These are all great rewards, and I know we will be so happy when those days of relaxation finally arrive —those days when we can put aside our notes, sleep in, and really live. However, I can’t help but wonder if these future rewards are an excuse for not taking care of ourselves in the present moment.
I, for one, totally decomposed during my first week of midterms. My room was a mess, my laundry pile was a behemoth, and my fridge was stocked only with energy drinks. I had a complete tunnel vision about my Latin exam; all my thoughts were plagued by ancient orators and dirty Roman poetry. I think we all have this tendency to stop self-care when school gets hard; I know I normally sacrifice my mental health strategies in favor of cramming more for a test. We view happiness as a later pursuit, incompatible with our current workload. This future reward system reinforces the idea that we shouldn’t be taking care of ourselves right now. Rather than take small steps like cleaning, we allow ourselves to completely fall apart only to reassemble our lives when the exam is finally over.
I have now committed myself to doing small acts of self-care during my final week of midterms. I ordered my favorite lo mein and dumplings after a late-night library session, I have (finally) done my laundry, and I am reaching out to friends about getting lunch this week. Although I still remain motivated by my celebratory date with the ballet, I am no longer storing all of my hope in a future period of happiness.
Am I staying up until the late hours of the night? Yes. Am I spending more time in Butler Library than in my dorm? Of course. Am I still crying a lot? Maybe… However, these small self-care gestures have made a major impact on my mental health. Rather than just “pushing through”, I am creating the best possible environment and conditions for my mind. I think we all deserve to remember that healthy habits and midterm weeks do not need to be at odds with each other. There is still space for self-care during these weeks. Rather than delaying happiness, find small ways to introduce it into your academic life. I promise it feels much better.