A Guide to Self-Care while Navigating University Exam Seasons

As we head into arguably the busiest time of the semester, we often find ourselves neglecting our own mental and physical well-being in pursuit of academic success. As a Psychology and Nutritional Sciences major, I’ve learned that our well-being deserves just as much, if not more, attention and care. These are some of the things I’ve learned about self-care:

1. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses 

Simply asking myself what stresses me out has helped me realize that I should take more breaks, eat more food, and break down the tasks I need to do into more manageable chunks. As Tyler Wither mentions in the Self-Care Toolkit (UWO), figuring out what makes you anxious or drained, as well as what you enjoy, is key to providing proper self-care.

2. Prioritizing quality sleep

To help myself get enough sleep, I stop doing work on my computer at around 10 or 11pm, leaving me with 1-2 hours to wind down before sleeping. Two ways I do this are by having a consistent routine (i.e., showering and brushing my teeth every night) and reminding myself that any work that I get done past 11pm probably won’t be as good as the work I’ll get done the next day. 

Photo of a bed beside a desk and window

3. Taking breaks while studying

Sometimes, I find it really difficult to keep to a schedule or finish everything on a to-do list. During these times, I try to remind myself to take breaks when needed and accept that things don’t always go as planned.

I remember when I was in my first year and would study in the library for hours on end, convincing myself that the more time I spent, the more efficient I’d be. This ended up burning me out fast as I didn’t take enough time for myself. Now, I try to spend no more than 6 hours studying every day — though I know this may not work for everyone. 

4. Setting realistic goals

Instead of just having one to-do list, I will have sometimes have two: one for the week and one for the day. I’ve realized that if I have just one big list or one really big job, I get overwhelmed super easily. Now, I try to break down larger assignments and focus on a few manageable tasks that I can complete in a day. I’ve found that the SMART goals framework has been really helpful for me to do this!

5. Exercising and balanced nutrition

Ironically, even as a Nutritional Sciences student, eating healthily is hard for me to do. But I’ve learned to do things like cutting up vegetables (i.e., bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, carrots) ahead of time that can go with spreads like hummus, trying to make sure there is a bowl of fruit in the living room (so that I’m more tempted to grab them instead of candy), and preparing big batches of cooked meals that I can store in the freezer.

In terms of exercise, U of T offers some amazing free group activity classes for students: I’ve attended yoga, HIIT, and cardio dance party so far. And I love taking gymnastics classes twice a week, which are both enjoyable and help me stay consistent. Here’s an image of me having fun doing a bridge!

Photo of Marianne doing a bridge at a gymastics gym

Marianne Rouleau-Tang (she/her) is a peer mentor with Academic Success and is in her fourth year of her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Nutritional Sciences. When she’s not studying, she is likely reading, playing the piano or saxophone, knitting, dancing or spending time with her friends. You can make an appointment with her and other members of the Academic Success Peer Team on CLNx and read more about Peer Mentor Appointments here.

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