Ways to manage mental health during midterms

Take some time for you during test season

Midterms are coming up, and it’s definitely a stressful time. It’s so important to prioritize your mental health always, but especially now—the question is, how? With studying, classes, work, and having a social life, it all can get super overwhelming. Here are a few things you can do to keep your mental health strong during midterms.

Make a realistic study plan

Be honest with yourself and what you need: how do you study? If you’ve never been the type of person who could cram for an exam the night before, you probably shouldn’t start now. Planning isn’t just about the study method you choose. You also have to think about where and when you’ll study, too. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Find your focus. Sitting around with all your notes, textbooks, and dozens of tabs open on your computer is so stressful. Focus on one thing at a time. Prioritize your studying by whichever exam comes first. Create an order for when you’ll cover certain topics. Laying everything out first could improve your focus and make studying easier.
  • Start early. Having a bunch of exams to study for + not having nearly enough time to do it = mega stress. This is totally avoidable! If you know when your exams are, start preparing sooner rather than later. Mark the exam dates in your calendar and begin studying in the weeks leading up to them. By giving yourself time, you’ll prevent last-minute stress, anxiety, and cramming. Plus, no all-nighters!
  • Study in a calm, motivating environment. If your surroundings are loud and chaotic, there’s no way you can really lock in. You’re more likely to become distracted and frustrated if you study in a place that’s not conducive to learning. You also don’t need to study in places like the library or a café just because those are hotspots for studying. Do you! Keep your setting serene and quiet to amplify your study sesh and help you process your information better. Listening to some chill music, like the Sound Mind album, can help too. Lo-fi beats are proven to help people relax and focus—that’s exactly what you need.

Form a study group

Some people prefer studying alone, but if you’re missing that social interaction, think about forming a study group with your friends or classmates. There are definitely some perks to studying in groups:

  • Increased motivation. Human beings are natural social creatures, so working together has some benefits, like an increase in motivation. Being responsible for making sure you and your friends or peers are understanding the material creates a sense of shared accountability. This could lead to less procrastination and more fun.footnote 1 It’s a win all around.
  • Feeling of support. Working with other students can feel like a support group because these are people who understand what you’re going through, can relate to your feelings, and can offer sound advice. There’s even research that shows that being part of a connected group can be helpful in supporting mental health.footnote 2
  • Reduced stress. Studies have shown that when you’re with a friend during a stressful time (like midterms), you’ll have less cortisol in your body. Cortisol is the stress hormone, so being with a friend lowers that stress response.footnote 3 If that’s the case for you, consider linking up with a few friends to study!

Set time aside to take real breaks

As much as you need to study, taking the time to unwind is just as important. Balancing your time hitting the books with time doing what you like can lead to a healthier relationship with studying and way better mental health. Try these activities on your next study break:

  • Meditating or yoga. Meditating and yoga can bring calm and peace during stressful situations. They can help you clear your mind, re-center, and focus. They also often incorporate special breathing techniques that can help regulate your heart rate and decrease feelings of anxiety.
  • Taking a nap. Everybody love sleep, but taking a brief nap as a study break is super beneficial to your mental health and for learning purposes. Getting good rest is crucial to keeping your mental state upbeat (a lack of sleep can lead to depression). It’s also great for keeping your attention levels up and anxiety down. Studies have shown that people can learn and remember information better when they’re well-rested, too.footnote 4
  • Getting outside & getting active. You don’t need to run a marathon or go to the gym for six hours, but getting up and getting your body moving can do wonders for your mental health. Doing something you enjoy, like going for a walk or riding a bike, can release endorphins that give you feelings of positivity and energy. Exercise helps with emotion regulation and can help you increase your focus and motivation.footnote 5

Eat as healthily as possible

It’s tempting to order takeout or pick up something greasy and quick, but it won’t do anything for you but satisfy a craving. A poor diet can lead to increased feelings of stress and depression, and we don’t want that.footnote 6 Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and eating some good brain food—a good balance of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and carbs is perfect for encouraging positive mental health and a clearer mind for studying.

Seek out help

If your nerves are feeling out of your control and you need to talk to someone, take advantage of on-campus resources, or find a friend or family member with a listening ear. Midterms are temporary, but these tips can help you beyond exam season. You’ve got this!

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote 1. https://www.torrens.edu.au/blog/the-5-big-benefits-of-studying-with-friends-and-how-it-could-save-you-money

footnote 2. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0004867417723990

footnote 3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21895364/

footnote 4. https://suicideline.org.au/mental-health/three-surprising-mental-health-benefits-of-sleep/

footnote 5. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/physical-activity-and-mental-health#:~:text=Physical%20activity%20is%20not%20only,sleep%20well%20and%20feel%20better

footnote 6. https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/eating-well-for-mental-health#:~:text=In%20fact,%20a%20poor%20diet,such%20as%20fruits%20and%20vegetables

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