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Surviving week five: Exam edition

How to ward off those blues and maintain your sanity


So it’s week five, again, and this time, it’s exam term. The dreaded quiet period is upon us, and suddenly instead of all-nighters at the club, we’re pulling all-nighters in the library. No time to romanticise the crushing reality of a deadline… We’ve just managed to get through Mental Health Awareness Week, the week when our inboxes, already dangerously close to capacity, are inundated with invites to ‘detox yoga’ in the college JCR, and our Instagram feeds fill with cringe-worthy affirmations and yet more scenes of feigned fulfilment. Who are they kidding? At this point, we’re just trying to make it through the day!

But it’s not empty propaganda. While daily well-being walks and sustaining a healthy sleep schedule may seem unrealistic, a 2.1 won’t get you anywhere if you’re too burnt out to leave your room! So please bear with me while I spew more advice now that the self-care emails have inevitably been replaced by study tips as exam term ramps up. And if you get nothing from this then at least I can rest happy knowing you took five minutes away from essay writing and revision!

1. Give yourself a break

Ok, here’s the rule: six hours studying a day – MAX! I promise that beyond that you’re not learning. Trust me, there’s science to prove it. You’re just getting closer to deep depression, and, as evidenced by my slightly insane NatSci friends, hallucinations.  Science also tells us to take a 10-minute break every hour (see below for possible ways to pass the time!), and better yet, space out our studying into chunks throughout the day.

2. Get outside

It could be a five minute saunter over to the college buttery to refuel with food you haven’t had to make, or a purposeful stroll through the countryside to Grantchester – where my queen Virginia Woolf is said to have taken a dip! Just leave your room. Take in the sights, breathe fresh air and remind yourself that the world is bigger than the pages of your textbook.

3. Grab a snack 

3. Grab a snack 

This is your sign to play obnoxiously loud music and use up those bougie bath products you’ve been waiting to re-gift, all while staying on top of your personal hygiene. You can literally watch all your worries wash down the drain… and your friends will thank you for smelling fresh.

5. Socialise 

Sometimes the temptation to wrap up in a blanket and ‘revise’ in bed can be overwhelming, but just a 10-minute chat or a quick coffee with a friend can really beat the blues and ward off any FOMO. And don’t feel guilty for taking the evenings off and chilling with mates! You need time to unwind and get out of your own head.

6. Don’t study in the library!

Controversial opinion, but I would advise looking elsewhere… the library in exam term becomes a place of palpable anxiety and intimidatingly focused medics. My alternative suggestions include: literally any cafe (Caffe Nero’s my go-to – it got me with the loyalty card), the botanical gardens, or another tripos’ lecture – trust me on this one, sitting in on a materials lecture was very conducive to essay writing).

(Image credits: Amelie Bromnick) The face of someone trying to prove to their mother that they’re still alive and well having spent an insane amount of time in the library

7. Wine and water

No, I’m not endorsing day drinking. And yes I completely respect people who manage to resist all the free wine Cambridge splashes the cash on. All I’m saying is it’s alright to have fun and let your hair down once in a while. It’s all part of the uni experience! But make sure you stay hydrated and drink water etc etc.

8. Make plans for the future

There is an end in sight! Whether it’s revelling in the cultish Cambridge tradition that is May week, or a trip to Jack’s on a Friday night, put something down in the calendar that you can look forward to. Researching stuff to do once you’re free is also a great way of procrastinating while making yourself feel productive.

9. Sleep

An obvious one I’m sure you’ve heard many times but you can’t have a self-care list without ticking off the basics!

(Image Credits: Christian Drobak) David fell asleep in a lecture. David did not get enough sleep the night before. Don’t be like David.

10. Be kind to yourself

Ok, I promise not to be too preachy but remember that you’re human and humans have limits. Listen to what your body needs and listen to your friends and family when they tell you to take a break. That little voice in your head isn’t always right, even if it got you this far. Just try to treat yourself how you would want a loved one to treat themselves. And if positive affirmations work for you then by all means post-it note them to your mirror!

Now go forth into the chaos of week five armed with tips to ward off those blues and maintain your sanity. Or ignore everything I’ve just said, that’s ok too. We can just consider this productive procrastination…

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, Calm (Campaign against living miserably) on 0800 58 58 58, and Student Minds online here. You matter.