by Marco Ovies, Features Editor
As someone with anxiety, this is the absolute worst time of the semester for me. I’m hot off the heels of finishing a bunch of essays and now have to start worrying about final exams. It’s very easy to start feeling overwhelmed. But after five years (or 15 final exam seasons) of doing this, I’ve gathered a list of tips that help me feel like I have some sort of control over my life.
Clean your living space
The first thing that happens to me when I start to feel overwhelmed during finals season is my room becomes a disaster zone. I like to think my brain goes into survival mode and I try to allocate the limited amount of energy I have to specific tasks like studying. But then I get anxious that my room is a mess and I procrastinate cleaning it. Then I get anxious that I’m procrastinating, and the vicious cycle starts.
The important part of this tip is to just do a little bit of cleaning every day. Instead of throwing your clothes on the floor while trying to pick an outfit, put them back after you try them on. Start cleaning before it becomes a problem. By doing a small amount every day, the amount of mess becomes manageable and never gets to the point where you’re spending an entire hour hanging up clothes because you destroyed your closet trying to plan an outfit for a date (not a true story I promise . . . probably).
If your living space has already become an overwhelming mess, I find breaking up tasks into small chunks makes tackling it more manageable. I typically start by cleaning my desk so I have a clean studying space, and then the next day I do something like my laundry, for example. The important part is to give yourself small attainable goals so you’re not getting too overwhelmed.
Okay, I know this is literally on every list for solving every single problem, but it works! When I get anxious, I feel like I have a bunch of pent-up nervous energy that I can’t figure out how to get rid of. But exercising is the perfect opportunity to use it all up.
I like to go on runs (yes, I’m literally running away from my problems), but any form of exercise will do. This doesn’t even need to be super sweaty and gross exercising either. Things like walking around your neighbourhood are a great way to not only get some fresh air but get your blood pumping.
Getting outside isn’t always possible, so I also suggest doing some workout videos online. I specifically recommend low-impact workouts like the ones from Body Project for those with bad knees or who live in an apartment and have to be considerate of downstairs neighbours. Remember: this doesn’t have to be a difficult workout. Any type of movement will help.
Taking a breather
I’m relatively new to this tip, but I have been amazed by how much it has helped me. Doing some deep, controlled breathing exercises will have you feeling less anxious and more grounded in as little as a few minutes. There are multiple ways for you to do this so feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.
Personally, I close my eyes, plant my feet firmly on the ground, make sure my back is straight, and then breathe in and out deeply. The trick here is your exhale should be much longer (4–6 seconds) than your inhale (2–4 seconds). If not, breathing too quickly will increase your heart rate which will make you more anxious (and you’ll potentially hyperventilate). When doing this technique, I can actually feel the anxiety leaving my body with each exhale, and as cheesy as it sounds, I like to pretend I’m physically pushing it out of my body.
I have also dabbled in doing some mindfulness exercises in the morning and while they may not be my thing, they might work for you. There are plenty of mindfulness podcasts available online and most only take five minutes to complete. Someone on the other end will guide you through different breathing exercises and have you focus on a different part of your body for each day. They are, however, more difficult to do in public if you’re feeling especially anxious.
I know this tip is a little bit shitty, but it needs to be said. The hardest part for me when I’m feeling anxious is actually getting started with studying. So then I just end up laying in bed with this ball of anxiety in my stomach, unable to start studying, and then getting even more anxious that I’m not studying. The hardest part is to just get started.
This may look different to other people, but what works for me is actually going somewhere to study like at a café. Not only do I get to drink a yummy coffee but I feel more obligated to at least have my notes open on my computer. If I’m at home, I’ll just end up crawling into bed and scrolling through TikTok until I eventually pass out.
If you can’t leave your house, at least try and establish a specific spot to sit in to get work done. Don’t try and do your work from in bed but instead sit at a specific table. And then sit at that same table every time you study. That’s right, you’re hacking your mind because your brain will start to associate that same spot with getting work done.
Take care of your body
You’re going to be no help to anyone, especially yourself, if you’re not well-rested and eating enough. Just because it’s final exam season does not mean you get to skip out on meals for the sake of studying.
More importantly, try to eat healthy meals with fruits and vegetables. The quality of food you are eating will give you more energy and you won’t crash as easily afterwards. There are many easy recipes you can make at home such as roasted vegetables or a quick salad (I find adding one of those rotisserie chickens from the grocery store to your meals to be an inexpensive and easy way to spice up a meal). While it’s not always possible to make something at home, there are plenty of options on campus like Sally the Salad robot or Steve’s Poké Bar.
Additionally, get eight hours of sleep (and getting more is okay too). You’re not going to learn anything useful by staying up all night before your exam. And ideally, you will have been doing all the other tips I just taught you and not procrastinating to a point where you need to pull an all-nighter.
Don’t ignore a serious problem
If your anxiety starts to drastically affect your life it might be a good idea to talk to a medical professional. You can go to your family doctor, a walk-in clinic, or even SFU Health & Counselling. They will be able to help organize the next steps to dealing with your anxiety and may even recommend anxiety medication. There is nothing wrong with recognizing you need extra help and I promise talking to someone about it will help tremendously.