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Mental Health

Relaxing Self-Care Activities for a Break During Finals Week

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

One holiday is behind us, and another is approaching… once we clear the final hurdle of exams week. To get good grades, we need to study and work on our final projects, but to maintain our health, we need to take some breaks. It is important to balance your study time with activities that can take your mind off things and let your brain soak up and assimilate everything you’ve learned—not only will this make you a less crabby student, but it will also make the material easier to remember!

Below are a few ideas for when your eyes are aching, your head’s about to pop, or you just can’t stare at a screen or textbook for another second. Not all of these tips will work for every person, but I promise that something here will work for you. I know some of these ideas are a little obvious, but they could be really helpful.

For more information about the stress cycle and response, and especially how it relates to women, I highly recommend the book Burnout by Amelia and Emily Nagowski. Now without further ado, Good-for-You Activities…

Cook something

When we really start grinding on work, it’s hard to take the time to make yourself a decent meal—after all, there’s the food prepping, the cooking, the cleaning up… it’s so much easier to just grab Chick-Fil-A to go. But cooking at home can be a therapeutic and cost-saving way to get nutrition to your body. Even if you just pop open a can of cookie dough to fry in your waffle iron, the act of creation, the smell, the anticipation, and the fact that you made this yourself will help restore a sense of power and delight in a stress-riddled student. You can go the extra mile and scramble some eggs and toast a bagel, boil some pasta, sauté some broccoli, or whip up a smoothie, but the important thing is to put in the effort to turn something you don’t want to eat into something you do. Your body will feel more energized for the upcoming days if you are eating carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and fruits. Remember that you always deserve to eat, and especially when you are hungry.

go outside

This may not be an available option depending on the time of day, but going outside without technological distractions (like your phone or Airpods) can help your mind sort out things and calm you down when your schoolwork overwhelms you. Even if it’s late at night, you can get the benefit of fresh air by bundling up, stepping outside, and just looking at the stars. This may seem boring or pointless at first, but I promise you that taking 10 or 15 minutes to be still will help you in the long run. The sunshine can help as well, and I find that wind helps clear my head, but if you love the moon or night, then go out and enjoy it!

exercise

You knew this one was coming! Exercise, endorphins, the stress response… We know that exercise is good for us, but it’s so easy to overlook. Moving your body will help your mind and emotions. Your emotions all reside in your body, and your brain does, too, so what affects your body will affect your feelings and thoughts. Whether you go on a walk, do some stretches, bounce on a trampoline, rock climb or dance, movement makes us feel better. Your body stores stress as a physical response, which was useful back when the stressors used to be things like enemy soldiers or bears. You know this as adrenaline when something scary or exciting happens. Nowadays, we have very slow accumulations of stress, but since they are so gradual, we tend to ignore them until they become overwhelming, especially as women.

Let your body complete the stress cycle by using exercise—this will tell your brain that you have dealt with the stress, and your body will feel free to let it go and not hold onto it. Even if you refuse to exercise, or cannot, try clenching muscles for a few seconds and then relaxing them. Start in your feet, and work your way up, not forgetting your hands, glutes, or face. Clench every muscle you can, for as long as you can, and then release—this also simulates exercise and the completion of the stress cycle.

Hug someone

If a person cannot be found, a cat, dog, stuffed animal, or another loved object will have to do. If you can get your hands on a close friend, I recommend a standing hug where each person holds up their own weight, so that no one is leaning on the other. Be silent, and hold it an awkwardly long time, maybe 40-50 seconds. When we hug someone, we tend to be tense as we squeeze and then release. Instead, to burn off stress, think about hugging them, and releasing into them. Think of sinking into their being, and of how you two are holding each other.

If you have a partner, you can also just cuddle for a bit! Scratch their head, let them massage your feet, and do not allow any talk of schoolwork or use of phones so you’re really present in the moment.

go for a drive

Again, this may not be applicable for everyone, but I find that driving is sometimes the most relaxing thing I can do. Music on or off, it doesn’t matter, just vibe with the scenery and watch things go by. Drive somewhere you enjoy being, maybe roll down the windows and get cold. If you can’t drive for any reason, hop on a bus, go for a walk, ride a bike, accompany a friend on their errands. There are many possibilities for watching the world go by.

window shop

I don’t mean looking for things and making impulse buys. I mean going out with nothing but a $10 bill in your pocket, if that. Leave your wallet in the car, leave your credit cards at home; be bold and keep yourself from buying anything, because we both know you don’t need it. Then go in the coolest-looking stores, try on all the fancy clothes, even the ones that aren’t in your style, and take pictures in the dressing room. Bring a friend so they can get all your good angles. Put them back and thank the retail clerk, and then do the same thing at the next store, in a kind of store-crawl. Again, you are not buying anything—if anything really catches your eye and you love it, then leave it for a week, and if you still want it, well, then you can consider it. But this is not a shopping spree; it’s a break, and we are not about to make any wasteful, impulse decisions on our break. We are smarter and more mindful than that!

clean

Sometimes you can be your most productive when you’re procrastinating. If you find yourself avoiding one specific project or subject, then tidy up to get your mind off it. I bet the bathroom is looking bad right now, and you probably have some laundry to do, huh? Well, put on some tunes and get to work! It’s a great way to get away from books while still feeling like you’ve done something productive.

work on your hobby

This is the most important one. Don’t forget that although you are a student, you are foremost a person with unique interests, tastes, skills, and pleasures. Whether you love to paint, play Minecraft, fold origami cranes, go running, put together puzzles, or knit, take the time and effort to pick up that hobby or project that you “just haven’t had time for recently.” It’s okay if you’re not good at it, or if it isn’t as easy as you remember. If you’re doing it at all, you’re doing well. It doesn’t need to be perfect, or match up with the idea in your head—today, it’s serving its purpose by being a break. Today it’s okay to color outside the lines a little bit, or to take a little longer than normal to get into your handstand because today you’re doing your hobby just to do it and to be you.

Now that you have these coping mechanisms in your arsenal, you are ready to take on finals season! Good luck and happy holidays!

Kimba is a Junior Psychology major who honestly prefers to write than conduct research. She loves to analyze and laugh, and always orders queso to go. In her spare time, she plays cozy games, reads, rock climbs, and bothers her cats. If you have any unpopular opinion, she is ready to talk about it. Recommended Jittery Joe's drink: Spiced Dirty Chai with Oatmilk
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