It’s the most stressful time of the year!

Tis the season for crib sheets and caffeine! This has to be one the craziest times of the year and if you are anything like me, there is one big thing standing between you and officially coming home for the holidays – EXAMS!

Just like many university students, I am currently in the middle of my exam period. Fortunately, this semester my exam schedule has allowed me to come home for a few days in between. For me, Muskoka is home– Huntsville to be specific! Huntsville is a small northern town, popular for its cottage-country surroundings. Having the ability to come home, has always been a huge blessing for me. As soon as I pull onto that two-lane highway heading north, a sense of calm always rushes over me. This time at home, has been a much-needed break from the stress-filled student coma I was in. With a proper meal and sleep, this time at home has given me some mental clarity – that of course, I just had to share!

Home has always been a place filled with comfort, familiarity and support. I found that being able to bring my studies up North with me, has given me a new outlook on the preconceptions of “exam season”. University is hard, there is no denying that it is designed to push students academically, socially and physically to their limits. The end goal, being that you get your degree and become successful in anything you chose to do. But what if you don’t make it out the other side? Nobody seems to talk about that. 

As a particularly independent and motivated individual, university nearly killed my ambition. Looking back at my first year of university, it was filled with so many challenges, both inside and outside the classroom. I remember sitting in my high school classroom and hearing guest speakers state, “your academic average will drop significantly in university.” Me, being a naïve overachiever, I thought that this would never happen to me. After all, I was used to getting high grades. I learnt quickly in university, this was not the case. Classes were longer, harder and professors provided a lot less guidance than I was used to. Of course, my grades did drop. But for me, the hardest part of this was not the grade itself, but the mental self-doubt that always followed. I felt defeated, was I even smart enough to be here? What if I fail this class? Why am I not doing as well as other people in the course? I quickly entered a vortex of self-damaging negativity.

I was even more frustrated because my life felt out of whack – I wasn’t sleeping, eating right, managing my time well and I didn’t know how to study to my benefit. I WAS JUST SO FAR OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE! I just kept thinking, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE?! We were often warned about a plummeting GPA, but I had no idea the additional types of obstacles that awaited me in the quiet corner of my dorm room. 

This was a huge learning curve, and luckily, I reached out to some on-campus resources to help me cope. But even after receiving help, I couldn’t help but feeling like I had failed myself. It took me a long time to realize that asking for help didn’t mean that I didn’t deserve to be here. Asking for help did not mean that I wasn’t smart enough to be here. Asking for help didn’t mean that I was weak – it meant I was strong enough to recognize my own limits. Ever since then, I have noticed a huge change in my approach to university life. In general, I am a lot more aware of my needs. Of course, I am still learning about how to cope with school stress, this is an ongoing journey. These struggles do extend far beyond my personal life and many students feel these pressures. 

Through this reflection, I have learned one very important thing: university culture glorifies self-inflicted suffering. University culture paints spending hours on end in the library, no sleep and weird eating patterns, as necessary factors for success. But it is important to remember- this is so UNNECESSARY. why are we bragging about self-damaging habits? Now, I am in no way saying that I have perfect study or lifestyle habits – because trust me I don’t. But one thing I am continually learning is that it will never be necessary to harm yourself in the process of pursuing your education – and this is something that we all need to discuss more. No grade, is worth harming yourself over and it is SO important to take care of yourself. In the long run that is what matters, you don’t need to deprive yourself to be successful! SO, please remember this exam season, to take care of yourself first. Only you know what your body needs, it is important to listen to it! 

You deserve the best, so that you can be your best. 

Good luck writing your exams!

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