Most TV and film depictions of uni would have us believe it flies by in a haze of beer pong, coffee-fuelled all-nighters and dubious one night stands. Sadly, the path to that graduation cap isn’t always so simple.
Nothing feels as far from the uni we see in movies as our degree’s final year when we’re drowning in deadlines and frantically trying to making plans for the future. In the words of Fresh Meat’s JP: “First year is beer year, third year is fear year.”
It’s normal to feel stressed AF in our final year and this can even lead to burnout. Don’t sweat it though, there are a few basic things we can do to minimise stress to keep us as far away from breaking point as possible.
#1 Schedule In Downtime
Colour-coded timetables exist to make us feel like productivity machines, but cramming too much in our schedules is a recipe for disaster. Blocking out time away from the books to kick back and unwind is just as important as racking up the study hours.
“Find the time to balance out doing university work compared to doing things that’ll help you reset, like physical activity or socialising,” says Jordan O’Reilly, Welfare Officer for the National Union of Students.
“Exercise is a great way to improve your mental and physical health, and it’s also proven to improve the retention of information while you’re studying.”
#2 Get Enough Sleep
It’s easy to fall into the habit of binging on Netflix and setting an alarm at the crack of dawn for optimum study hours. However, getting regular sleep is key for keeping our mental health in check and avoid burning out.
“Creating good sleep habits is important,” says Simon Dodd, Senior Clinical Advisor Headspace. “It’s better to go to bed earlier than it is to lie in later. Although everyone is different, broad guidelines say 18-to-25 year olds need between seven and nine hours a night.
“Not feeling rested when you wake up is a sign that you aren’t getting enough sleep, and it’s also a symptom of biological depression, so that’s something people should pay attention to.”
#3 Make The Most Of Available Uni Services
We’ve already paid for student services, so now’s the time to make damn good use of them.
“A lot of the time, unis provide ways to network, like job fairs, where people from the industry will come to meet you,” Jordan says.
“Your college association will have final year groups, where you can bounce things off other finals students and make connections.”
Keeping your head of department sweet can also come in handy, especially if they have connections or alumni to hook us up with.
#4 Ask For Help If You Need It
It’s normal to get a bit panicky around final exams. It’s not normal to burst into tears in the library on a regular basis because we feel like we’re in a never-ending cycle of stress. If you’re feeling unusually worried, irritable or sad, or identify with other symptoms of burnout it could be time to get help. Headspace and Beyond Blue are great support resources or look into what mental health services your uni provides.
They can help you ask for an extension, too. “Student advocacy services can help navigate policies of the university, particularly if you’re suffering from mental health-related issues,” Jordan says. “They’re a great resource to use if you need to get special circumstances or something similar, to help you get through it.”
#5 Don’t Overload Yourself
Unless you’ve found a stash of the Limitless pill, planning to write 5,000 words an hour, apply for 20 jobs a day, read back every single page of lecture notes, go to work AND learn Spanish (because you may or may not head to Chile for a month to *find yourself* after graduation) isn’t realistic. Make your to-do list manageable and work on your stress management skills.
“Think of mental health as a bucket,” Simon says. “The bucket gets filled up in various ways, like relationship difficulties or study stress. We can’t make the bucket bigger, but things like eating well, meditation, talking therapies and staying socially connected are good ways of managing what’s inside. Recognise that the stress is coming, and make plans and preparations that will address it.”