Keep Calm and Power On

Keep Calm and Power On: 7 Tips for a Successful End-of-Semester!
Plus a 8-Pose Sequence for Restful Sleep (in Slideshow + Video Form)!

Many of us—those who are students and teachers—are nearing the end of an academic year, a time that can feel especially frantic and stressful. The weather is warm, and we’re mentally ready for summer, but…we’re not at the finishline just yet. Below are some ways that I’ve found for remaining calm and collected in the midst of the chaotic conclusion of the academic year, or really at any moment that life is throwing you curveballs.

1. Be sure you keep up with your exercise routine.

If you don’t have a current routine, schedule one right now.  

Or, if your schedule will be different during finals, be sure to also plan out your exercise time within this updated finals schedule. Don’t let a disruption of your academic calendar also disrupt your exercise. A regular dose of endorphins makes you happy and helps you think more clearly. Literally, take out a piece of computer paper and draw yourself a 7 box calendar for the entire week or two at the semester’s end. (The great thing about this is that you can easily extend the chart to go on for multiple weeks—this tool can easily become a useful “at-a-glance” version of your training log.)

You can also get creative by combining exercise and study time. For instance, you can study your index cards or read while biking or walking. That said, I think it can be very valuable to keep your study time distinct from your free time if at all possible—this tends to keep you much fresher when you do study. If you do try to study/exercise, keep the studying light! (It’s probably not a good idea to elliptical as you study Organic Chemistry.)

 

2.  Smart time management relieves a great deal of stress!  Make the most of your time by:

A.) knowing what you need to accomplish each day AND B.) rewarding yourself with a small break when you’ve accomplished a task.

Just as you’ve scheduled your exercise, take 10 minutes to map out your last couple weeks academically: what do you need to do each day so that you feel prepared and on top of your work? Even knowing that you have a plan is a great way to feel less frazzled. Know also where you will work. If you need a quiet/busy environment to be productive, be sure to set yourself up for success by retreating to the best study space for YOU.

At the grotto at Notre Dame during my sophomore year--this was actually taken on an impromptu photo shoot where my roommate Mary and I ran all over our favorite places on campus taking photos! I highly advocate this as a fun study break and you'll get a bunch of great photos to remember your favorite campus spots years later!

Just as you schedule your work, be sure also to take time for breaks! Don’t power through your work until you’re totally mentally cracked! Just as you listen to your body in yoga, also listen to your mind—if you’re feeling really mentally fatigued, do what you need to do in order to feel refreshed again. Anecdote: in my first semester of graduate school at Notre Dame, I once wrote an actually extremely good 17-page paper on medieval marginal annotations in one sitting. I camped out at a booth in Lafortune (our student center) and didn’t leave until I was done 7 or so hours later. In retrospect, this was an awful idea even if I was then done with my work and that work was well done; I was so cracked I could hardly even talk on the phone afterwards and remember feeling like I had been hit by a truck. (Nor did I even have to finish this paper due to a deadline; I had just decided to get it over with.) In sum: include breaks as a part of your productive work process. A great approach here is to “divide and conquer”: instead of writing your entire paper, maybe first do an outline, or write a couple pages but then outline the rest. Stop before your brain says “no more!”

Taking a break can be something as small as getting up to get a cup of coffee or going for a little walk with a friend. (If you’re at UVa, I highly recommend a walk through all of the Gardens as a wonderful restorative break.) The other great thing about scheduling your work is that you are more likely to feel confident that you’ll be fine by taking a break. Small movement breaks are also a good idea. If studying at a library, buddy up in small (nondistracting) groups so that one or two of you can go walk around and others can watch your books, etc.

Taking a yoga break in one of the beautiful gardens at the University of Virginia. Find a park or another green space to elevate your mood!

Trail running....always a great break! Anywhere that provides a change of scenery is always a great idea!

3.  Give yourself at least one bigger “experience” reward.

Reward yourself with work well done with an experience which will take a larger chunk of time. During more than one finals week in college, my cross country teammates and I would take the bus to the mall and shop for a day. While writing my dissertation at UVa, I would often work very intensely for several days in a row and then take a day totally off where I did no work whatsoever (and did not feel even remotely guilty about it). This flux of intense work followed by complete break helps you to be more productive in the times you are working. This doesn’t have to be an entire day—you can even just plan a fun dinner out with a few friends who can also meet up on a specific day.

Sidenote: I also totally advocate buying yourself something if you need a little pick-me-up. I know, I know, experiences are better than possessions, but treating yourself to a little something is sometimes a very good idea. (Let’s just say I’ve accumulated a very large collection of dresses from the time I’ve spent in academia…) And, speaking of clothing…

4. Don’t wear the same clothes every day!

During my very first finals week of college, I wore the same black Adidas fleece every single day. While this made getting dressed simpler, I could neither look at nor wear that article of clothing for a very long time afterwards. You will feel better if you dress up a little bit, or at the very least, please do change your clothes!

Don't ask me how I managed to track down this photo...my freshman year at Notre Dame during my first finals week. Note the infamous black Adidas fleece! (I also totally still have these Adidas pants, which I must say are quite awesome as well as quite warm.) At least my section of Pasquerilla West 2A is doing some restorative yoga! I had just gone for a very very snowy run around the lakes.

5. Find someone to hug.

For real, life is kind of lousy without hugs.

Pets are great but people are way better.

Calling your mom on the phone is also a great idea.

 

6. Stay hydrated and don’t overdo the sugar.

 Uh oh, I might be a little addicted to the smoothie bowls from Juice Laundry in Charlottesville! I am fully an advocate of dessert, but make sure to not overly rely on sugar to power your studying.

Uh oh, I might be a little addicted to the smoothie bowls from Juice Laundry in Charlottesville! I am fully an advocate of dessert, but make sure to not overly rely on sugar to power your studying.

 BUT, if you're going to have sugar, at least make it some Scandinavian Swimmers from Trader Joe's! (hint: they taste a lot like Swedish Fish).

BUT, if you're going to have sugar, at least make it some Scandinavian Swimmers from Trader Joe's! (hint: they taste a lot like Swedish Fish).

You know, running is actually an awful lot like academics. Finishing a race feels like finishing a paper, but proper nutrition and sleep will go a long way towards helping your success. (Once in college, I purposefully came late to a history final because I needed more sleep and knew I could finish in a shorter period of time…I’m not sure I would actually advocate that, but rest is key to both physical and mental performance.)

Stay hydrated and up your Vitamin C! I love those packets of Emergen-C! Coffee is great--if you currently already drink it--but try to not overdo it either. No need to get jittery! Remember you can always switch to tea midway through the day.

 

7. Last but not least, try to incorporate yoga into your bedtime routine.

Don't have a bedtime routine? NO PROBLEM. I don't really have one either except the one near constant is that I do a little bit of yoga before bed. Sometimes this lasts half an hour, sometimes I do two poses.

In college, I had some awesome blue Christmas lights for my dorm room. I would turn out all the lights except for these, and stretch on this big black mat I had covering the floor. This was very chill and included a lot of time in pigeon pose.

Now I often do something similar. You're never too old for colorful lights. I have a blue strand (different than the college one!) that I'll plug in, or I'll light this little red lamp I got in Florida that has a spot to put a few drops of scented oil in it. Another alternative is to light a couple of candles. I unroll my mat and just let myself have some time to decompress from the day.

Below, a good sequence to help set yourself up for a restful night. Click through the slideshow at left for full directions. Have a friend read out directions while you try the sequence!

1. Child's pose with elbow grab.

2. Circles on forearms with hands clasped.

3. Wide-kneed child's pose with elbow variation.

4. Downdog.

5. Pigeon variation.

6. Half Lord of the Fishes pose.

7. Shoulder stretch with blocks.

8. Restorative backbend with block(s).

AND, just in case you wanted a video for more visuals, see below! Remember you can take as long as you need in each pose. Good luck with the end of the semester! You got this! ~Ann