Midterm season is a rough time of the year. You have your exams, papers, research progress, and extracurriculars to balance in only 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At the same time, you have your social activities such as Homecoming and Halloween that would be fun to take part in, but it can be hard to balance along with all your academic obligations! As Vanderbilt students, we are heavily involved in everything we do, and consequently, are always wondering how can we balance our responsibilities so we can also sleep and have time for ourselves. There is no “right way” or general formula for everyone to manage their schedule, but there is a more effective approach.
Mindfulness includes different behaviors that allow someone to be more present in everything they do and take a more observational than active role in one’s thoughts. It’s a very common suggestion for anyone who finds themselves overwhelmed by their thoughts often, especially when it’s a busy time of the year. Midterm season can be incredibly overwhelming because there is so much to process at once that it becomes difficult to take deep breaths once in a while or affirm your hard work. As a pre-medical student involved in extracurriculars along with rigorous academics, I’ve come across many stressors in my time at Vanderbilt thus far and they do not disappear no matter how mindful I try to be in my everyday life. However, I’ve changed how I cope with them, and I see a huge difference in my life. I used to get incredibly anxious before exams, and I used to put an unnecessary amount of pressure on myself to get a certain grade in a class. Now, with these mindfulness practices, I’ve been able to mellow out throughout exam season and just focus on what I can control instead of trying to force things to happen. The following are a few examples of how to be mindful in your everyday life that can be implemented in one’s schedule in order to make busy seasons in our lives, like midterms, just a little bit easier.
There is power in understanding that you as a human being have limits. These limits are not and should not be based on what you see or think you see in other people, but based on your own experience. Self-forgiveness is saying, “I did my very best, and that is totally okay.” Self-forgiveness is not circumstantial or only applicable in some contexts and not others, this is something to be practiced every day. Whether you fail a test or totally ace it, you did your best with what time and resources you had, and that’s all you can ask for. Practicing self-grace during exam season can be helpful for combatting the fears of not doing well by allowing yourself to come to terms that whatever grade you got at a certain point after studying and preparing is out of your hands.
This is also something that requires time every day. Affirming is more than just looking in the mirror and saying things to yourself, it’s about changing your mindset. It’s about taking the negative thoughts you may have about yourself and modifying them to be more positive so that your mind ceases to immediately default to the negatives. Affirmations can be convincing yourself that you deserve to speak out or voice your opinion, you deserve to take up space, or you deserve to be on this campus. When you affirm yourself, you focus on your efforts and not the end results of your work. You affirm how hard you have been working instead of affirming your GPA. Similarly to self-forgiveness, affirmations are not context or achievement-based, but they should revolve around you and your existence. You can put your affirmations on your phone or your mirror, or as an alarm on your phone; in the end, it’s just important that you see them and repeat them to yourself as often as you need.
3. Time management
This is different for everyone. One person’s schedule or hours will not necessarily work for you. Time management happens over time with experience and knowledge about your study habits, eating habits, and sleeping preferences. There are some universally helpful tips such as how you are better rested when you go to sleep at the same time every day and how writing down your obligations somewhere keeps you on track, but most time management strategies are based on personal preference. Some examples of questions you should ask yourself if you are having time management issues are: am I productive at the time/place I work? Do I study better individually or with a group? How far in advance should I study for this exam? Would it stress me out less to break this task into parts and spread them out?
There are professional staff coaches and peer guides at the Center for Student of Wellbeing who specialize in academic, time management, and financial strategies for all students of Vanderbilt. They are very willing to meet with you and see you multiple times to help you set goals and achieve them, and I highly recommend meeting with one if you haven’t had the chance yet.
4. Time for self
Even in the busiest times, it’s important to give yourself some grace and be honest if you need to take a break and do what you enjoy. If there’s something you really enjoy, how often do you do it? Do you think you do it enough? Would doing it make you feel better or help you manage your stress? If so, why not go for it? Take a mask night, cook for yourself, go out to eat, spend time with friends, go out, take a walk, exercise, etc. Doing whatever makes you feel good may indirectly boost your self-efficacy and self-confidence in your schoolwork. This does overlap a little bit with time management, but it’s time worth spending in the end.
Overall, mindfulness is not something you can achieve overnight. Taking care of your mental health is analogous to taking care of your physical health. To be physically healthy, you may do things such as eat healthier, exercise regularly, or talk to a coach or personal trainer. Mental health is the same way. You may need to build new habits or watch what your inner voice says to you. You also may need to talk to someone, and that is totally okay; there are people on this campus that make that possible through the Student Care Network (Office of Student Care Coordination, Center for Student Wellbeing, and University Counseling Center). At the same time, self-care and mindfulness are not achievement-based. Any progress is good progress. Saying your affirmations once a week or doing something you like just once a day are the little victories that make the rest attainable. Start with what you are comfortable with, or even just keep these techniques in mind, and midterm season might just get a little easier.
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