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How to stay positive and motivated through exams and into the holidays

By Lauren Olsen, December 17 2019 —

They, whoever “they” is, say that November is one of the toughest months to get through, and I will concur that this past November was a doozy. However, just when you think you’re safe, enter December. I get it, you have at least three final assignments, term papers and in-class presentations during the last week of class and then you have weeks of exams. With the inevitable sense of things hanging over you, it sure makes it tough to stay positive and even really relax at all, let alone even think about the fact that Christmas is only a few weeks away. I’ve been a little grinchy myself this year, I’ll admit, but I have been making some conscious efforts to lift my spirits. It’s my pleasure to share some tips and tricks with you now that will hopefully light a little fire under your booty to get pumped to finish the term strong and start kindling that Christmas spirit at the same time. 


Do one thing at a time:

Photo by Mariah Wilson

I know this is tough because there’s a million things to do, but to avoid becoming overwhelmed, I have found that making a super-conscious choice to only think about one thing at a time and  work on one project at once ends up really helping me focus. Otherwise, you can sit down with all the good intentions to tackle everything, then sit there not knowing where to start and end up on Instagram for two hours. Seriously, slot your assignments into time increments and commit to that one thing for that time period and prepare to be amazed at how much you get done.


Work in shorter intervals and take breaks:

Photo by Mariah Wilson

Now, I do not mean work for 20 minutes and then go sit on the couch for an hour. I mean, schedule your breaks the same way you’re scheduling your assignments. Knowing you have a break scheduled will trick your mind into staying focused during the “work time.” It sounds elementary and silly, perhaps, but trust me on this, because it made a huge difference for me. I found that the intervals that worked really well for me were 30 – 40 minute work “sprints” followed by a 10 minute break, then right back into another 30 – 40 minutes of work and so on. Our brains can’t stay focused for much longer than 40 minutes without wandering or losing some steam. I found that harnessing my attention this way helped me to be super on task while I was working and those 10-minute breaks to go to the bathroom, get a coffee or do another little task, was enough to reset without getting off track. 


Incorporate something festive that you actually love into your everyday:

The penguin display at zoolights. // Photo by Mariah Wilson.

I know the holidays are a tough time for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. I in no way want to compound those feelings of stress, but I do think we all have a little part of us somewhere that loves something about this time of year. Getting a little festive amongst your exams can boost your energy to power through and give you something to look forward to. Check out the city’s Christmas markets and get inspired by the handcrafted work of local artists and crafters. Cozy up with a ‘nog and watch a cheesy Christmas movie in the evening. Maybe it’s the baking you like to do, or decorating your house. I wasn’t feeling very Christmas-y until I went to the mall the other day and saw all the decorations and the kids taking pictures with Santa. Maybe you really don’t like any of it, in which case power to you, my only advice would be to not indulge in hate for the season. Instead, consider accepting that there is a chance for some personal growth being offered, and maybe go for a walk downtown, through a neighbourhood or a park and check out all the lights. There’s something pretty great about the lights. 


Take some pressure off gifts and other holiday-related expenses:

Photo by Mariah Wilson

I think a lot of the stress and dislike for this time of year comes from the inherent cost of the season. Somehow, gifts have become the least of a lot of people’s worries, because on top of gifts there are parties and dinners with work, friends, family — it adds up, I know! I also know that we’re all generally great people and the fact is, we like to buy gifts for — and spoil — the people we love. If you’re anything like me, if I find something I think somebody will absolutely love, I really want to buy it for them, even if I’m way over budget already. It’s almost like getting overly into the spirit and setting yourself up for deep financial and health regret in January. Resist! I used to spend all the money and tell myself I would deal with it later, and that’s how debt happens. Calm your credit card, make a budget and stick to it. Find the deals, get creative and don’t over indulge. Also, say “no” to the parties you don’t really want to go to. You don’t have to do everything. 


Stay healthy-ish:

Photo by Mariah Wilson

This piggybacks on the last item a little bit. There is no question this season is a time of indulgence. There’s baking. There are big meals and dinners featuring all the goodies we don’t really have the rest of the year. There are drinks everywhere. I’m all about treating myself and I think it’s healthy to do so, but let’s keep it together a little bit. You know you’ll feel awful if you are drinking every day. You know you’ll feel bad about yourself when your jeans are too tight as you dress up for New Year’s Eve. Exercise some self-control. You deserve the treats, yes. But you also deserve to feel amazing , healthy and vibrant. Bingeing on alcohol and sugary treats for an entire month is going to dim your natural glow and the radiance of your being. Remember that information and let yourself have fun without overdoing it. 


I love the idea of keeping positive through December so that January isn’t as much about regrets and resolutions. December is a time to reflect on how much you’ve grown in the last year and how much you’ve accomplished to get to the end of your semester. The roads you’ve taken and challenges you’ve overcome have brought you to a well-deserved break and time to spend with the people you love. It doesn’t have to be a struggle. Let the air out slowly and be kind to yourself this exam and holiday season. You’re worth it and you’re doing great. Best wishes and all the blessings for your holidays and into the New Year. It is a new decade, folks and that’s pretty badass.


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