On Perfectionism, Writer’s Block, and Overcoming Both

Hands down, my least favourite question during a job interview is being asked the quintessential “What is your biggest weakness?” question. Firstly, where do I even begin?! Secondly, how do I trick my potential bosses into thinking any flaw of mine is actually going to be an asset to their business? (Fun fact: I once answered with “strong, dark-haired men”. In return I received astonished laughter, and a job offer. #TryItUofT?)

I read somewhere once that the best and worst response in an interview would be to say, “My biggest flaw is that I’m a perfectionist.” I figure this works both ways because – congratulations: you have solved the quandary I discussed above and successfully fooled those suckers into hiring you – but you’ve done it at the cost of sounding like the most irritating human being on the planet. And at the risk of coming in a close second to that title, I’m going to take the leap and say I can relate to that.

Trying to sell yourself to somebody vs. not coming off as incredibly annoying... the eternal struggle.

Trying to sell yourself to somebody vs. not coming off as ~the worst~… it’s the eternal struggle. (PC: headlikeanorange.tumblr.com)

I really, really enjoy writing as a pastime. One of my most prized possessions to date is a purple plush-bound diary I received for my fifth birthday. I’ve blogged since the days of Xanga. I actually kind of enjoyed proofreading my friends’ essays in high school (albeit partially due to my grammar nazi tendencies). I tend to do better on essays and written assignments than I do on tests that solely feature multiple choice questions. I think I’ve even started several novels throughout my lifetime (I know, it’s taking all of my energy not to roll my eyes at myself right now).

Yeah... I was that girl.

Yeah… I was (and still am) that girl. (PC: via Tumblr/survivingcollege.com)

But it’s been almost 15 years since I received that diary and I never managed to fill out all of its pages. I’ve started so many blogs with the intent of keeping a constant record that I can’t remember all the screen names I own. I’ve spent time rewriting sentences for other people’s papers without starting my own. I don’t think I’ve ever finished an essay earlier than the night before or morning of its due date. And there’s a reason I’m here as a student at U of T and not richer than the Queen of England, à la J.K. Rowling. To what do I owe this misfortune? My prognosis: a terrible case of writer’s block, brought on by the onset of perfectionism.

Writing for Life at U of T has not so much been a job for me as it is has been an outlet to create something I hope others will enjoy from doing something that I love. Recently, however, I’m finding it harder and harder to produce writing that I’m happy with. (Another fun fact: I had writer’s block while writing this post about writer’s block. Super meta and ironic.) The constant anxiety of not being able to perfectly transfer my thoughts from mind to keyboard has gotten me literally nowhere, except in slowing down my progress.

Credit: Screencap from The Office

Essentially what perfectionism does to you. (PC: Screencap from The Office)

This was not so much a piece on health and wellness as it is a reflection of an experience that I’m sure most of you will be able empathize with in your time at U of T (and probably one that’s occurred more than once). It also isn’t necessarily limited to an experience within the scope of writing. It’s scary thinking about constantly having to reach a certain standard you’ve set for yourself once you start producing work that you’re actually happy with, or when you start believing that everything you’re doing isn’t living up to your potential. This is probably especially prevalent to most of us when it comes to finals season. Upon the arrival of finals season, it boils down to two emotions – (1) feeling like you have to outperform yourself on the exam because you didn’t do as well as you had hoped throughout the semester, or (2) worrying about your exam performance pulling down your grade and having a semester’s worth of hard work thrown away in vain. Take this common piece of advice given by psychotherapists to patients with anxiety-related disorders: Stop worrying about not being able to do your best, and just get out there and do your best. You’ll only be doing yourself a favour.

So on that note, come brilliant, inspiring, prose or not – until next week, U of T.


In which I do what I say…

We’re in the beginning stages of exams, and UofT has been zombified.
Everyone seems to be walking around in various ‘walking dead’ personas.

Last week I talked about taking time off to really enjoy how far you’ve come,  so this week I will do exactly that.

As an English student, exam season is really essay season for me, as I write papers that usually determine up to 40% of my overall grade, all in the last two-three weeks of school.


i can never see my actual desk this time of the year.

Recently, as I was busy pumping out papers, I remembered two papers I wrote in first year:

The first one, my first ever history research paper, received a dismal 60ish%.
I admit, I had no idea what I was doing.
I also hated writing the paper.

The second one, my first ever, close-reading paper, received a whopping 90ish%.
I had thoroughly enjoyed writing the paper, and on it, my T.A. told me that if I continued writing papers this way, I’d do really well.

The catch is that both these papers are from the same class.
The expectations hadn’t changed, only, my selection of topic and approach to writing had.

Fast-forward to fifth year, and I’ve become extremely self-aware of what kind of essay topics I’ll respond to better. Regardless of the subject, I’ve developed a way to write essays that play to my strengths, and also tackle the content required of me.

There are always expectations asked of us this time of the year, but there are many ways to go about meeting them.

Whether you study till you look like an extra from the Walking Dead, or cram under pressure the night before the final, figure out what works for you.

If you study better sprawled on the floor in a mess, do it.
If you need multiple breaks, take them.
If you focus better alone, get a study cubicle.
If you work better with friends, book a study space at Gerstein.

In Chinese, we say 加油 as a form of encouragement.
This literally means “add oil”.
Add oil everyone.  : )

Just a little further, and it will all be merry again.

IMG_9212uh guys…we ran out of oil again.


And Here We Are . . . The End of Term!

I used to snowboard a lot in the winter. Ever since I was about six years old, I was out on the snow-hills and riding chairlifts. But once I came to university, I stopped. I guess I got busy. Always finding myself, all of a sudden, at this same moment: The end of term.

Feeling rushed. Stressed. Panicked. Less than a week left of classes. Then exams. It’s especially hard because I can smell the winter break like it’s a warm, cinnamon-sugared beavertail at the bottom of the hill and I just want to bomb the course to reach it. But school and snowboarding, unfortunately, are two dissimilar things.

I can’t bomb school. I have to work hard. I have to do well. I have one final project this term (it’s true, but it’s my fifth year, so don’t hate me). I probably could rush it. But I know that if I take my time it will be better, more interesting, more enjoyable, and altogether more worthwhile.

The tricky part is committing, staying focused, and seeing the project through to the end. Whether it was my first end of term, or now my ninth, finding the energy and concentration is a challenge. Not to mention finding the time to eat, and to take healthy breaks.

And that’s where I bet most of us are right now. I’m assuming that everyone is busy, stressed, and resenting the day they ever chose to attend U of T. So I’ve decided to forgo regaling you with a tale of my own academic sufferings, and just get on with my schoolwork.

Yep, that’s right, I am going to study. I can do that, no problem. I’m going to take my time and do an excellent job. It’s not like I’ll slowly drift away to amuse myself with strange, funny, stupid, and generally pointless distractions . . .

Like these!

Okay, that was fun! But I should probably get back to work.

Ha, I love that! All right, I really need to study for that in-class exam on Monday.

Wow! Just wow! But that’s enough. Time to destroy this essay!

You know, I kind of want to see that. No! Stop! I need to focus!

Source: http://imgur.com/a/Culn9

Source: http://imgur.com/a/Culn9

Maybe I could become an extra once I graduate. THAT’S IT! No more! I have to finish my schoolwork!

What just happened? How long was I watching that stuff? I guess it doesn’t really matter.  It’s the end of term. Needing some kind of break from studying is inevitable. I’m not going to stress, or panic, or run away. I’m going to recognize that distractions and procrastination are normal. Good studying and good work require a break now and then.

Next time, though, I think I’ll go out for a walk. Get some fresh air. Call a friend. Eat some soup. And let my tired little brain actually rest, until it has to get back to work.


Good luck out there, U of T!

- Stephen

Things that make me anxious during mid-term season

It’s that festive time of year again when we celebrate the midpoint of the semester by donning our favourite sweats, while subjecting ourselves to sleep deprivation and massive amounts of studying. These rituals often take place collectively at Robarts or any 24 hour Tim Hortons. Those who survive the festivities often leave with a mean caffeine addiction.

This event is infamous for its ability to instill anxiety in students that can be felt across campus. Without further ado, here are the things that make me anxious during mid-term season :

1. Just knowing that it’s October.

Source: http://animisensa.tumblr.com/post/47142847738/i-keep-seeing-pictures-on-facebook-with-the-dates

Source: http://animisensa.tumblr.com/post/47142847738/i-keep-seeing-pictures-on-facebook-with-the-dates

I might not look like that on the outside, but that’s probably what my inner self would look like.

2. When my friends and I argue over who is more stressed than the other.

Source: http://gif-reactions.tumblr.com/post/37644113632

Source: http://gif-reactions.tumblr.com/post/37644113632

I don’t even know why we waste time on this. Nobody gets a prize.

Instead of engaging in counterproductive bantering, why not become each other’s support system. For me, it’s easier to get through studying with friends than alone because I feel less stressed. The bonus is that being less stressed provides for better cognitive function—like memory!

3. Realizing the amount of testable material for the midterm.


Source: http://motionlmags.tumblr.com/post/63493671283/over-1-000-followers

4. Realizing the amount of testable material for the midterm that I haven’t read.

Source: http://tragically-epic.tumblr.com/post/53250473329/reaction-to-teen-wolf-3x03

Source: http://tragically-epic.tumblr.com/post/53250473329/reaction-to-teen-wolf-3×03

I find that the best way to deal with this type of anxiety is to stay on top of my readings every week. That said, if I find myself in a position where I still have chapters that I’ve barely touched and a limited amount of time to know them, the most efficient learning system for me is to read over my slides first and pick out the topics mentioned in them from my textbook.

5. When I look at the test paper and it’s written in alien.

Source: http://tragically-epic.tumblr.com/post/53250473329/reaction-to-teen-wolf-3x03

Source: http://tragically-epic.tumblr.com/post/53250473329/reaction-to-teen-wolf-3×03

I find it is reassuring for me to know the format of the tests, to look over past tests to gain familiarity with the types of questions, and to be prepared for the level of testing difficulty.

6. When my brain decides to forget everything during the exam…

Source: http://tragically-epic.tumblr.com/post/53250473329/reaction-to-teen-wolf-3x03

Source: http://tragically-epic.tumblr.com/post/53250473329/reaction-to-teen-wolf-3×03

7. … and then remembers all the right answers the second I hand in the exam.

Source: http://ginger-dad.tumblr.com/post/55630194799/that-moment-you-think-your-baby-might-be-stronger-than

Source: http://ginger-dad.tumblr.com/post/55630194799/that-moment-you-think-your-baby-might-be-stronger-than

Test anxiety affects thinking ability either through the mechanism of “blanking out” or having racing thoughts that are difficult to suppress. I will often take a few deep breaths before reading over my exam as a way to relax myself and to relieve my anxiety.

8. Realizing there’s only 15 minutes left in the exam and I’ve only completed a third of the exam.

Source: http://motionlmags.tumblr.com/post/54097691892/surpassed-600-followers

Source: http://motionlmags.tumblr.com/post/54097691892/surpassed-600-followers

I find the best strategy for this again, is prevention. I scan through my test for the first 3-5 minutes of the exam and allot time for each section. One of the worst mistakes I have made is spending too much time on the short answer question, and leaving no time to answer the long questions where the bulk of my mark resides. Now, I actually work backwards by doing the long answers first, before moving on to the short answers.

9. When everyone but me walks out of the exam early.

Source: http://gi-jew.tumblr.com/post/27542717929

Source: http://gi-jew.tumblr.com/post/27542717929

I’ve learned to focus on the test instead of how empty the room is getting. I tell myself: “the time it takes other people to complete an exam is a variable independent of your abilities!”

One thing is sure: feeling anxious is very natural during exam season. In fact, anxiety is a good thing to feel in limited amount since it can help motivate us to do better!

These are things that I have tried and that work for me. What stresses you out and how do you deal with it?

If you have tried various coping techniques and the anxiety still feels uncontrollable and/or interferes with your studying and test-taking, you might want to check out the resources at the Academic Success Centre or Counselling and Psychological Services.



3 Places With Horrible WiFi Connections

I have a procrastination problem. Over the weekend, I picked over the top 10 hits on google.com under the search term “how to not procrastinate” for 15 minutes before I realized that I waste too much time online.

This weekend, I figured out the solution to my problem, and I studied for 9 hours straight.

Turning off my electronics and putting them in a corner has never worked for me. They tempt me from my bookshelf, calling me to turn them back on and get to googling. The only way I could get my school work done was to make sure that I had no internet connection. Once I disconnected myself from the wireless world, my productivity shot through the roof.

If you’re looking for an internet-free zone to study in peace, I have a few suggestions. If none of these are particularly helpful in your case, I’m with you in spirit – try not to spend too much time looking up recipes you’ll never actually get around to making.

Basements - On Sunday, I collected my things and went to the basement of my building. There’s a great little study room there with dim lights and not even the slightest wireless signal for phones and laptops. The fact that I was an entire elevator ride away from the nearest wireless signal was enough to keep me in place for the entire day (oh yeah, I’m also lazy).

The closest thing to a Wi-Fi free basement on campus is a study room in one of the lower levels of the Gerstein Information Centre. If you’re lucky, you won’t get even a single bar of WiFi service in there, but on most days, you can at least count on your phone being useless.

Outside – This one might be a stretch for some of us (and by us, I mean me – I don’t like bugs). The nice weather isn’t going to last much longer, so if you’re an outdoorsy person, why not make the most of it while it’s still here? Lay out a blanket, sit on a bench, or drag a lawn chair to the farthest corner of your backyard, and read away.

Lecture Halls/Classrooms – Yesterday, I knew that I had a class in a lecture hall with a non-existent wireless signal. There isn’t a class in there before mine, so I showed up early and got stuff done. I’m serious about this no Internet thing.

The next time you find yourself distracted by Tumblr, Twitter, or if you’re anything like me, Google, while you’re trying to study, don’t power down your computer. Don’t shut off your phone. Move. Better yet, if you don’t use your electronics in your lectures, leave them at home. I’m not suggesting that you keel over your textbooks and notes for 9 hours like I did, because that’s probably not the healthiest thing to do. Get up, find a spot that has 0 wireless access to the world wide web, and study away.

From Spectating to Participating: the time to get involved is now

With the first week of March now upon us, we students are entering that proverbial ‘crunch time’ of late nights, libraries, and fancy lattes to help us cope with it all.

And this year, more than most, seems to have a lot of stuff crammed into the final six to eight weeks of the semester.

In addition to the assignments, tests, and exams, this time of the year also features plenty of activity in the world of student life as many groups, clubs, and student organizations begin turnover processes, paving the way for next semester – starting September 2013. While you may feel that you don’t have much time to devote your awareness to anything other than your textbooks over the next few weeks, I implore you to keep an eye on the goings on in the student communities you are a part of, as the way in which these communities are shaping up at the end of this semester will have a very real impact on the way they look when classes resume six months from now — unless you’re a graduating student, of course. (If you’re in this boat you have plenty of bigger concerns to deal with………anyone looking to hire a Student Blogger, available for work immediately in early May?…Please?)

The elephant in the room being all this University of Toronto Students’ Union secession business that has been dominating student politics at the university as of late (for the seven of you interested in undergraduate student politics, that is). And while this issue is definitely an important one – especially as the consequences of all of this hullabaloo have yet to be borne out - this is not the only thing happening in student life right now that you should be concerned with.

Student communities take all shapes and sizes, from small college-based clubs to inter-campus wide student associations. What I hope to emphasize is that many of these organizations are holding elections/seeking membership for positions for the upcoming year and if you have ever thought about trying out for one of these positions, the time to do so is now. Don’t simply get caught up in being a spectator to everything going on around you. As cliche as it may sound, the four or five years you spend at the University of Toronto is short (trust me) and if you have ever considered the possibility of enhancing your undergraduate experience through some extra-curricular activity, now is the time to seek those position out.

I know first hand that this can be a daunting task for the uninitiated, but trust me: go for it. The first ‘major’ thing I did in the realm of student life involved running for an executive membership position on the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council at the end of my second year. I had dabbled a bit in Vic’s student life before then, but I was a relatively unknown candidate and was up against someone who had already been on the council previously and was a somewhat of a known entity around the Vic community. Needless to say I lost the election and while it definitely sucked I gained invaluable insights into how student life functioned at the college as well as had the opportunity to meet a number of people I would not have otherwise met. The experience of running, despite losing, no doubt played a factor in my attaining an elected position on the council in the following Fall election at the beginning of the new term. Leaving my comfort zone was, you’ll be surprised to hear, uncomfortable but the experience was essential in my personal growth (overcoming social anxieties) as well as integrating myself in a community I now have grown to love and adore. There is not a doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t run in that Spring 2010 VUSAC election you would not be reading this post right now.

The moral of the story is, I’m sure, quite obvious. You’ve heard it before but it is worth stating again: your experience as an undergraduate student is what you make it and oftentimes the best experiences in life involve a little risk. Students at the U of T have been known to complain that they experience a lack in communal-feeling with their peers and while this may be true the opportunities to remedy this feeling are out there; you just have to be willing to look.

The Art of Forgiving Yourself

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

- Mahatma Gandhi

We’ve all heard the expression “forgive and forget.”  For most people, it seems, that expression only applies to other people. We’re supposed to give loved ones, whether they be friends, family members, partners, or others, second chances. And that can be a struggle, especially when we have been wronged.  But I’ve learned that one of the hardest things to do is to forgive yourself for mistakes that you’ve made.

My first year was my worst.  Hands-down.  UofT intimidated me.  I can still remember walking into Con Hall and thinking “there are more students in this one class than in my entire high school.”  I lived in residence but homesickness took over within a few weeks. I struggled through my courses and felt a little lost on campus.  It wasn’t until the end of Year 1 that I decided to talk to someone.

I booked an appointment with my registrar’s office and walked my advisor through my issues.  I asked her to fix my situation. To make it right.  I wanted her to give me a step-by-step solution to all my troubles.  I wanted her to turn back time.

What she said to me completely through me off because it was so unexpected and seemed so irrelevant.  She looked me in the eye and asked me “If your best friend came to you with this issue, what would be the first thing that you say?”

I wasn’t really sure where this was going but I said “I’d tell her not to give up.”


“Well yeah. I’d tell her to cut herself some slack.  Everyone makes mistakes.  And she’s resourceful enough to recover from a setback.”

And then she said “So why can’t you say that to yourself?  Why doesn’t that apply to you?”

I think that was one of the first times I realized that it’s okay to make mistakes.  To not have everything figured out.  Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t have to deal with the consequences of your actions (and yes, there will be consequences).  It just means that those consequences don’t have to include shame, guilt, or depression.

I remember asking my advisor “if I’m not hard on myself, won’t people think that I’m not taking my situation seriously?”

She pointed out “do you think that your loved ones want you to be moping around?  Or do you think they’d prefer it if you were resourceful and found a way to rectify your situation?”

“Maybe I should change my study habits.”

“And you will. But before you can do that, you need to move on.  And the only way to do that is to forgive yourself.”

I remember walking out of the registrar’s office with a sense of relief.  I didn’t have a step-by-step solution to my problem like I’d hoped.  But I figured out a way to re-channel my time and energy to improving my situation instead of beating myself up over it.

I think, in the midst of the expectations that others have for us and those that we have for ourselves, we forget that we are human. That we fail.  And that presents one of the biggest barriers to letting go of the past and moving on.  Reminding ourselves that we are worthy of forgiveness is half the battle.

Till next time,


I’ve found my escape. What’s yours?

I love keeping myself busy with things I love doing, but sometimes living the 100-mile-an-hour student life takes its toll. I have this tendency to over-analyze and worry WAY too much about everything… so when there’s a whole bunch of things going on all at once, I inevitably start feeling strained. But I know that there is one thing I can turn to in order to release any negative energy. I’ve discovered an outlet through which I can burn away my stress, clear my thoughts, and just put life on hold for a while.

Ever since I took up cross-country running in my first year of high school, I’ve kept at it. It’s been two years since I’ve actually raced, but it was never really about that for me. I didn’t care about winning or being the fastest. Over the years, running has become my escape from the stresses of everyday life. On days when it feels like nothing is going my way, I’ll go for a run. When I’m angry, frustrated, or completely distraught about something, I’ll take my mind off of it by running. And when I’ve re-read the same sentence five times and the computer screen starts to get blurry, well, there’s not much left for me to do but lace up and hit the road.

I’ve come realize that it’s MOST important to make time for an “escape” when I’m so busy/stressed that I feel like I don’t have time for it. I had FIVE exams in FOUR days last week, so leading up to that my life was a blur of eating, sleeping, and studying like mad. But I also made sure to fit running into the picture, especially since it has been so mild out lately. Even if I only got outside for a bit, I always came back feeling refreshed, re-energized, and glad that I took the time out of my busy day for it.

As exams wrap up and the holidays approach, the whirlwind of festivities can be stressful too. So I encourage you to find an activity that makes you feel alive and can help you get through a bad day. It doesn’t have to be running. Maybe you are heading back home to snowy mountains, and can’t wait to hit the slopes. Or perhaps simply heading outside for a walk to see the Christmas lights lets you clear your mind. Yoga, Zumba, the elliptical – it doesn’t matter what it is. The important thing is to find something that gets your body moving, something to fall back on whenever you need to get away from all the stress and worries of the day.

If you’re looking for more ideas, then check out the MoveU crew’s awesome tips! Already got a favourite sport that you turn to as your escape? Planning a fun activity for the holidays? I’d love to hear about it!



How to manage post-exam stress

As we all know, exams are stressful. They take a semester’s worth of knowledge and cram it all into a two or three hour session. For someone like me who isn’t particularly fond of examinations (I much rather write final papers/assignments, as it gives me a higher degree of control over my work) the endeavour of preparing for an exam is highly stressful.

“Are my notes good enough?”
“Do I have time to do the readings I skipped during the term?”
“Do I have time to do these readings well?”

…these are the questions I end up asking myself. The fear of inadequacy in your own exam preparation — as well as the prospect of facing the unknown of what your professor is going to test you on in an exam worth half of your grade — is something we all deal with.

There is, however, another form of exam stress that doesn’t get recognized as much in general discussion on this topic and it is this which I want to touch on today. I’m talking about the exam stress that comes after you have written the test and those seeds of doubt in your ability prop  back up when it is ultimately too late to do anything about it.

December, AKA ‘the most wonderful time of the year!’

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts I recommend you follow after writing your final exams for the semester:

DON’T — Search your notes after an exam looking for answers:

We’ve all done it. You finish a particularly rough exam and, in a desperate bid to console yourself that you knew what the hell you were writing about, you immediately begin searching your notes to see if you got the test questions correct. Doing this is risky as it almost always leads to heartbreak. Either you A) got the question completely wrong, or B) you answered most of the question correctly but perhaps missed one or two points a more comprehensive answer would have had. In both instances, you will be left fretting about how you wrote the exam until the class’s final grades get posted on ROSI. After you write your exam it is simply too late to change your answers, therefore worrying about them is wasted stress. ‘Ignorance is bliss,’ as they say.

DO — Use your holiday break to do something you enjoy:

This point may seem obvious to some, but the holiday break should be used as a break. At the outset of your break, the beginning of the Spring term may seem like a long way away but it will come quickly, trust me, and then it’s back to the good ol’ undergraduate grind. Also, the holiday ‘break’ only accounts for an academic break, the rest of your life doesn’t go on break and it’s easy to lose your time off to other stresses: work, family, and yes, shopping and other holiday ‘obligations’, to name a few. Furthermore, while this time of year is generally branded by advertising agencies as the ‘most wonderful time’ of all times, the fact is that for many people  the holidays are not always particularly pleasant. Try and use your time off during the holiday break to engage in something fun that you’ve neglected over the Fall term. ‘Me time’ is important in coping with student stress (and all stresses, really).

DON’T — Lose trust in your ability:

Writing a bad exam can be a deflating experience, especially if you feel like you put in a more than adequate effort in preparing for it. Keep in mind, however, that there are a myriad of factors that can lead to you writing a bad test beyond your comprehension of the course material. Perhaps you focused on the wrong material, or weren’t studying as effectively as you thought you were, or fell ill the day before — these are all plausible situations. Try to learn from your bad exam experience and use it to more effectively prepare for future tests. No one said learning was easy and there will inevitably be some roadblocks to you attaining that pristine 4.0 GPA.

DO — Resume (or begin as would be my case) routine exercise:

During the final weeks of the semester many of us are scrambling for time to get everything we need to get accomplished finished. In doing so we tend to neglect certain other important parts of our lives (loved ones, pets, video games) and exercise is often one of them. Physical activity is a good stress-buster and with all your exams completed for the semester, the four to six odd weeks you have prior to the beginning of the Spring term is an ideal time to try and get back into a semblance of an exercise routine (this advice is also doubly beneficial given that the holiday season is not really conducive to healthy eating habits).

DON’T — Talk to your classmates about the test you just wrote:

In a similar vein to that of my above “Don’t” — talking with your classmates about their test answers can be highly stressful if they responded to the exam questions differently than you did. This is especially true for multiple choice tests in which more than one possible answer seemed plausible. The risk is that your classmates — especially if they’re your friends — may be good at persuading you that an answer you chose that you thought was correct (and very well might be) was in fact incorrect as they chose something different. Trust in your own ability and talk to your friends about something other than school!

DO — Be productive!:

Somewhat contradictory with the above “DO” — the holiday break is an excellent time for you to catch-up/get ahead of your workload. Have a year-long class in which you neglected to do 75 per cent of the readings for in the Fall term? The break offers the perfect time to catch up. The more academically productive you are over the break will inevitably result in your Spring term being a little less stressful. Pre-emptive stress busting is a form of stress busting, so if you feel as though the second half of your year is going to be particularly difficult and busy, there’s no harm in preparing ahead of time!

So what are some of your DOs and DON’Ts when it comes to post-exam stress? Let me know in the comments below!

- Matteo

It’s Exam Time, So Take Care of Yourself!

It’s December!  And we all know what that means… winter break! Yay!

However, there’s just one small thing to do first …


Yes, it makes me cringe every time I think about it.  For most of us, exams are the only thing standing between us and a much-needed school break.  And so we throw ourselves into powering through the last few weeks. The marked increase in people studying at Robarts is an indication of the incredible intensity of the exam period.

I find that in my own drive to get my exams done and over with, I fail to take as good care of myself, both mentally and physically, as I usually do.  A recent article in the Globe & Mail suggested that I’m not alone in ignoring my own health and wellness while trying to cope with the stress of end-of-term exams.


But wait, where does it say that I can’t give myself a little self-care AND get through all my exams and papers successfully?  Self-care and exams aren’t mutually exclusive.  And, it’s especially during these stressful times that I need to take a little time for myself.  I’m certainly not studying every single minute of every single day; therefore, self-care may not be as elusive as I initially assumed.

And yet, there isn’t always time to take an entire day off.  But there are always those little things that can help us get through the day.  Here’s a list of things that have worked for me over the years:

5. Reading something I want to read

When I’m tired of staring at a blank Word document or trying to sift through a 30-page reading, I set it aside and give my mind a mental break by picking up a leisure book or a magazine; just a short break, but just enough to allow me to regroup and refocus on the task at hand.


4. Drop-in classes at Hart House

I recently started going to a weekly drop-in fitness class at Hart House.  Although it’s a grueling workout that leaves my muscles feeling like jelly, the physical exercise is definitely a welcome change from sitting in a chair most of the day.


3. Taking a shower

Some of my best ideas come to me in the shower; I think it has something to do with the soothing feeling of the hot water and just letting my mind wander.  And, after a shower, both my mind and body feel alert and ready to tackle the next thing.


2. Talking to my parents

When I lived at home, our family’s tradition was to have dinner together every night.  It was a chance for us to just talk about anything and everything.  Although I’m currently living in residence I still talk to my parents regularly.  Their support is always a great mental booster.


1. Sleep

On Facebook, I’ve listed sleeping as one of my favourite hobbies.  Yet, when exams come around, I’m always tempted to ignore this very important aspect of my life.  Past experience, however, has taught me the value of getting a decent amount of sleep on a regular basis.  Sleep deprivation doesn’t help my brain perform the critical thinking and analysis needed to write my exams.  Now when I find myself feeling really sleepy, I listen to my body and head to bed.  That way, I can wake up in the morning refreshed and able to process things much quicker.

Studying for exams can be a harrowing time for many students and it certainly isn’t realistic to expect to be stress-free.  And, we all need a little stress to give us that edge to focus. But, the exam period doesn’t need to wreak havoc on our mental and physical health.

Most importantly, while I definitely know that every minute that goes by is a minute that can be spent studying, it’s important to not feel guilty about taking occasional breaks to regroup, refresh, and re-energize.  Even the energizer bunny’s batteries have to be changed every so often, so I figure we’re entitled to breaks to make sure that our bodies and minds are getting at least as much attention as our books.

Do you have something you do to inject a little self-care into your study schedule?

Happy (and I really mean this) studying!