End of Semester (or college, for some of us) Marathon

So it’s that time of the year when things can get really stressful. If you’re like me and graduating, too, even though you’ve done this whole “end of the spring semester” thing several times before, the stress can pop up in surprising ways.

You may not be feeling overwhelmed, and that’s a-okay. In fact, that’s great, and I hope you keep feeling good! But you may also be like me and feeling a roller coaster of emotions (just today it was grumpy, sad, calm, elated, panicked – and I’ve only been up three hours), which is also a-okay. This can be a really challenging time full of changes and uncertainty and oh my gosh what is even happening. Yet it can (and I hope is!) also be a time of fun and frolicking and last-minute hangouts on the lawn.

But I bet all of us still have at least one super big-deal academic thing we must get through before the end of the school year and/or graduation, so here are some tips I’ve started using to help myself deal with the final countdown to thesis completion on days when it just seems IMPOSSIBLE:

  1. Set small, manageable expectations and be gentle with yourself. In the times when thesis really just isn’t happening, I will set a goal of literally one sentence and insist that I cannot yell at myself for being unproductive as a result. Usually, having more gentle expectations allows me to get at least two sentences done or even a whole paragraph and hey, that’s more helpful than getting nothing done and feeling even more unmotivated when I berate myself. A favorite way to phrase this manageable step approach in the office is “bird by bird:”
    Try to take your work “bird by bird.” As Anne Lamott (whose wonderful book, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” is in the WW office) tells it, her father once advised her younger brother, who
    was overwhelmed and struggling to write a paper on birds, “just take it bird by bird, buddy.” In other words, break your writing or studying up into bite-sized pieces (e.g. writing just one paragraph), and focus on
    that one piece without letting your mind wander to what else you have to do–the overall project, your other classes, your to-do list…Take a short break between each “bird” to stretch or walk around. You’ll be
    amazed at how much you can accomplish this way, and pretty soon you’ll have a whole flock of “birds” and your work will be that much closer to finished.
  2. Get support. Whether you need a listening ear, a tissue, or a pep-talk (three things I currently need in great measure on a typical day), try to reach out to your network or to the various offices on campus to get some support. Not sure where to start or feeling unsure? The Well-Woman office is here to help you figure out resources on campus, listen to your concerns, or just give you some tea and a chance to decompress.
  3. Take care of yourself (that includes having some fun). You sit on that lawn. You enjoy the sun on the steps. You watch that episode. Then you go do some work “bird by bird,” hopefully feeling refreshed and recharged from a fun break. Same goes for sleeping, eating, moderating the caffeine intake, or anything else that helps you feel well – keep up healthy habits you have already developed as best you can. It can be really tempting to let go of self-care habits when the going gets tough, as I do sometimes too, but it’s especially important to be kind to yourself during stressful times (and kindness includes being gentle to yourself if you don’t meet your self-care goals).

Those are just some ways I’m trying to stay grounded in this very often overwhelming time. Here’s to doing our best rather than aiming for perfection!

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