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Preserving your mental health through the stress of finals season

Academics

Preserving your mental health through the stress of finals season

The atmosphere around this time at most college campuses is one of high stress and busy bodies. This goes for professors and students!

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Gannon’s Ruskin Campus

It is difficult not to get wrapped up in it and keep a healthy perspective, but taking care of yourself and stepping back to live in the moment is something that is important for our mental health.

October was Mental Health Awareness Month and 18 of the OTD students had the opportunity to become certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid through Hillsborough County. The 8-hour training was informative and gave us skills to apply in the field and everyday life.

It also emphasized the need for advocacy with this population and a decrease in stigma associated with mental illness. This is an issue also recognized by Christine Greseth, MS, OTR/L who teaches our psychology focused courses and has extensive experience in the field of mental health.

She shared that “education is the key to open and honest dialogue which is necessary to bridge the gap between the truths about mental illness, the sensationalized information that emanates through all forms of media, and the fear that forms out of misunderstanding.”

Her advice to the GU community is to “know your body, first and foremost. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress: do you have headaches? stomach aches? digestive issues? Does your skin break out? Does your heart rate/blood pressure increase? Do you sweat more? Are you sleeping more/less than usual? Are you drinking more than usual? Are you irritable? Do you feel like crying for no reason? There are many more. The bottom line: understanding your own reactions to stress is the first line to being able to manage it. And, if you need help, talk to someone. Our faculty at Gannon University/Ruskin has an open-door policy for ANY student who needs to process the challenges of our program. Sometimes the simple act of venting helps, but if there are issues that need to be addressed further, we are always there to help find the right path to mental health.”

Occupational therapy’s roots are in mental health and the idea that engagement in everyday activities can be the basis for treatment. As OT students, we are always discussing the importance of our client’s mental health, but what about our own?

8 tips for preserving your mental health through finals:

  1. 15/45 ratio.
    Take a 15-minute break for every 45-minutes of studying to increase productivity. No one would think twice about resting during a tough workout at the gym, but we seem to think it’s okay to put our brains through the rigors of heavy studying without taking periodic breaks to improve efficiency.
  2. Schedule time off and hold to it.
    Don’t bring your notes to the gym, the pool (if you are at the Ruskin campus), or even the dinner table. Give your brain a break throughout the day.
  3. Laugh.
    Go watch a comedy movie or SNL before bed! Laughing boosts endorphins and curbs stress hormones.
  4. Eat well.
    Prepare multiple meals for yourself and freeze them for finals week to stay on top of a balanced diet and avoid skipping meals. It is necessary for concentration, multi-tasking, and memory!
  5. Get enough sleep.
    Schedule your 8 hours and turn off your screens 1 hour before bed (the light tricks your body into thinking it is still light outside and suppresses melatonin secretion)
  6. Don’t abuse caffeine.
    Too much of a good thing is a bad thing! Too much caffeine can lead to headaches, upset stomach and increase anxiety. If you are like me and love the task of coffee – try decaf, I promise your Starbucks drink will still be delicious!
  7. Limit time spent on social media.
    It can add distract you, cause undue stress and drama into an already challenging time. Focus your energy where they will benefit you the most and keep your eye on the prize!
  8. Keep a healthy perspective.
    Although studying for finals is important, remember that you have been learning this all semester and you have already made it this far! Be confident and consider the long-term motivation behind your studies.

(BONUS: print out this motivational quote and put it somewhere you’ll see it often – positive mantras really do help!)

whitney-calligraphy

©wbeecalligraphy – print for personal use only

Whitney is part of the inaugural class of Occupational Therapy Students at the GU Ruskin Campus, and author of the Gannon Gulf Coast Guide guest blog series.

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