It seems like many colleges and universities have moved away from the standard exam schedule. In fact, it can seem like you are constantly studying for exams or writing papers, with no downtime or lull in the semester at all. Midterms and finals just mean a heightened level of existing anxiety or stress. Unfortunately, for many college students, that means there comes a point in the semester when it seems like there are way too many obligations and way too little time to manage them all. If you are simultaneously working on recovery from an eating disorder this can be incredibly frustrating, particularly if everything seems to be equally important on your to-do list. While it can be easy to lose sight of how critical your recovery is in the midst of these academic priorities, its crucial to remember the potential consequences. Turning to your eating disorder behaviors will only intensify the stress you’re body is under, making it mentally and physically harder to concentrate, harder to interact and connect with other people (i.e. study groups, roommates, support people) and much harder to accomplish that long list of study tasks.
Self-care, nourishing your body, following treatment recommendations and practicing your new healthy coping skills is what will eventually get you through the stress of mid-term or final exams. While the hectic nature of college academics can’t be completely avoided, we can offer some tips to help make it feel more manageable and less likely to derail your progress in recovery.
Prioritize: Make a list of all of your upcoming responsibilities. Pull out the larger projects and see if you can break these down into smaller, more achievable tasks. For example, break down “10 page research paper” into: print articles; read articles; write an outline; write the rough draft; write the bibliography; and revise the paper. Write deadlines next to each item on your list and then organize your to-do list by due-date or high priority items. Don’t forget to breathe.
Eliminate unnecessary responsibilities: Do you really have to do everything on your list? You might have some things on there that are optional projects, or possibly some student organization meetings that are not imperative for you to attend. Perhaps you can ask for less hours at work during exam weeks. Remember that you can also always talk to your professor; if you have 3 exams scheduled on one day, one of your professors may actually be willing to allow you to take the exam for their class on a different day. If you just can’t adjust your schedule, know that this stress is temporary. Focus on the end point and plan a reward for yourself after big assignments are turned in.
Don’t give up on the basics: As tempting as it may be, you still need to prioritize sleeping, eating and self-care. In fact, it is even more important that you take care of yourself during this stressful time. Always strive to get as close to 8 hours of sleep each night as possible, remembering that lack of sleep can have a significant effect on hunger and eating patterns. Make sure you are scheduling times to eat your meals and snacks and that you are thinking ahead. If you know you won’t have time to go back to your room for a meal, remember to pack your food with you or bring money to eat while you are out.
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
Relaxation is vital. Take some time every day to take a deep breath and be still. Enjoy what the season has to offer. Consider setting aside 30 minutes or an hour during your busy time to catch up with a friend or roommate – no multi-tasking or studying allowed during that time.
Keep your appointments: When things get hectic, it may be tempting to cancel your therapy or nutrition appointments so that you can spend more time studying. This often makes sense in a moment of panic or stress but can easily lead towards losing sight of recovery’s importance. Cancelling appointments during high stress or high pressure times can be a risk factor for relapse. Consider a rock climber choosing to take off her safety harness right when she gets to the highest and steepest part of the cliff. You’d probably question that decision right? The same applies to your “safety harness” and your support system during difficult times. If you are struggling to get to your appointments, speak to your therapist about this and decide together what is the best way to balance your responsibilities with your recovery in mind.
Reach Out: Recovery can feel like a full-time job sometimes, and college is a full-time job for many students. You may be realizing that you are struggling so much with both that you just can’t focus on your academics the way that you want to. You may have missed a number of classes, gotten behind in lectures or just feel too overwhelmed to truly focus. Don’t be afraid to talk with your professor and see if there is any way that you can catch up, delay some deadlines, or work with a tutor to help you in that class. You don’t have to go through this on your own. Ask for help and explore your options for support on campus. If you think you need to withdraw from a class and have missed the Drop/Add deadline, or if you are thinking about taking a medical leave of absence, schedule an appointment with the Dean of Students, an Academic Advisor, or someone at the Counseling Center – that is what they are there for!
While academics and exam stress can be overwhelming, just remember that you have options regarding how you handle that stress and how you let it affect you. You have already accomplished so much this semester. Reflect on what has been working well so far and praise yourself for a job well done. If there are things that have been a struggle, now is a good time to evaluate what aspects of your self-care and stress tolerance could be improved. Try coming up with a reasonable plan to put into action for the rest of the semester and continue reflecting on it to see what is working and what isn’t. If you are stumped as to how to do this, reach out to others for support and additional ideas.
CED wishes you a memorable semester of academic success, balance and self-care. For more insight on the intersection between college and eating disorder recovery, check out our whole blog series at: Battling Body Image Concerns & Disordered Eating on Campus .
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and need help or support, please call The Center for Eating Disorders at (410) 938-5252. You can also reach us by email at EatingDisorderInfo@sheppardpratt.org.
Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD, CED Therapist & College Liaison
Originally published on 11/11/2011