A guide to preserving your well-being

As exam period nears, self-care should be a top priority for students

It is 9:55 am, and your seventh alarm has gone off. I guess you’re not going to that 9:35 am class. What’s wrong with you? You sit up with groggy eyes and spend the next 10 minutes beating yourself up for sleeping in yet again. It is the third month of your fifth semester at McGill University, and you are officially exhausted. Fatigue sits over you like a dark cloud, and any ounce of motivation left for you to complete the semester seeps out of you through cracks in your skin created by self-neglect and a prolonged refusal to properly moisturize. Wondering if you will ever pull your life back together, you get out of bed and begin your day.

I don’t know about you, but this seems like a morning I experience far too often. The stresses of university life can have devastating effects on our motivation, and it is time we do something about it.

As we enter exam period, it is important we take a moment to stop and re-evaluate our priorities in life. The golden “A”, or that “prized” internship diminishes in importance once we recognize that in our attempt to achieve such goals, we have forgotten ourselves in the process. Motivation is an interesting concept: for those of us suffering from chronic demotivation, it’s one of those catch 22 situations where you need motivation to be motivated, and you can’t get motivation without being motivated. Well, maybe there is another way. Instead of reaching into the emptying pit within ourselves to scavenge the remaining incentives to “do well” in life, we can start the process of healing from the inside out. By focusing on our well-being and bringing back our own meaning to life, we can start to replenish that store of zeal within us; and bring back motivation into our lives.

So how do we better take care of our well-being?

Make a Vision Board

Manifesting your reality begins from positive self-affirmation. As I mentioned, prioritizing our life goals can be a catalyst to clearing up the mess in our heads and give us a fresh outlook to life. It can help define our actions by helping us understand what it is we really need to achieve our goals. A vision board is simply the physical manifestation of your dreams: a board full of pictures, quotes, poems, etc. that solidify your life goals and priorities, one that you can look at each day as a reminder of why you’re here. Here’s how to make one:

Step 1: Go to Dollarama and buy a wooden board or a large poster as a canvas for your pictures.

Step 2: Browse the internet and print the images that represent what you want in life. For example, you can find a picture of your ideal home or ideal workplace – and don’t be stingy on yourself!

Step 3: Stick the pictures on your canvas, and manifest your reality. Want to become a lawyer? Put Lady Justice on your vision board and wish her good morning on your way to Civil Rights 101. Do you wish to create a running habit? Find inspiration in your sports heroes and imagine yourselves in their (running) shoes receiving that Olympic gold medal. Take the time out of each day to envision a future full of opportunities, and create the perfect future version of yourself that you KNOW you will become.

Exercise… Or Don’t

By exercise, I do not mean running up and down Mont Royal five times a day. Exercise can be light, calming, and enjoyable for even the laziest of us! Try relaxation yoga or take a short walk around your neighborhood – move your body in any way you can, and you will notice that you feel instantly refreshed. If you want a more intensive stress-relieving exercise, try kick-boxing or martial-arts. Take advantage of your McGill gym membership and sign up for cheap weekly classes. Want to make friends while working out? Try joining an intramural team like soccer or Ultimate Frisbee.

However, do not make these activities an obligation. Nothing feels worse than missing a workout session if you have made it into a duty. If you have too much to do, skip out on exercising and relax for the day. Those five-pound weights can wait ‘till tomorrow. Remember, nothing is more important than your own mental health.

Meditate

Too many people seem to think of meditation as a “New Age” spiritual practice. However, meditation is simply a form of exercise for your brain. In an article in Psychology Today, the positive effects of meditation on our brain function is outlined: “meditation could at least temporarily stave off or improve memory impairment symptoms among people with early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, brain trauma… and [in otherwise healthy brains,] improve functional connectivity in an area of the brain that’s associated with memories.” Also, a 2011 study performed by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that mindfulness can strengthen a brain’s white matter connectivity, and thus “help diminish age-related WM degeneration in key regions which participate in processes of mindfulness.”

For help on meditation, there are countless computer and phone apps that can guide you through the process of mindfulness. If you have time during the week, check out the meditation sessions provided by the McGill Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. And if you’re just too busy to set aside a chunk of your schedule, take small morsels of time out of your day instead – even for 10 seconds 6 times a day – to practice awareness. In a matter of weeks, you will see the enormously positive changes that meditation can bring to your well-being and mental health.

Get Counselling

McGill University has an extensive support system for students that extends to sessions with licensed counsellors who can help you through difficult times during the school year. Contact McGill Counselling Services or McGill’s Peer Support Services to see how you can benefit from the wide range of services such as group therapy and workshops and individual urgent care drop-in counselling. Saying your worries out loud can be a cathartic experience, and having the advice of a counsellor will help you realize that you are not and will never have to be alone in your struggles. However, if you want to remain anonymous, there are additional services available to you just a phone call away. McGill Student’s Nightline provides “a confidential, anonymous, and non-judgmental listening service run by McGill students,” and can be reached at 514-398-6246 every night from 6pm-3am.

The next time you feel overwhelmed by deadlines or upcoming exams, remember that there are resources available to you. The investments you make on your well-being today will be the stepping stones to your success tomorrow. When you reflect back on this time years down the line while sitting in the living room of your dream house, you will thank yourself for having remembered the importance of self-care in times of difficulty.