hi, i saw on a post that you have depression, yet have great af grades. do you have any tips for someone who also battles depression?
Hi there! Both of those things are correct, yes. I will say that my depression is pretty mild comparatively speaking, so things might be different if your illness is more severe than mine, and at the risk of sounding like I’m bragging again I’ve never had to work too hard to keep my grades up (my mom blessed me with an amazing brain, I guess). But I do still struggle, so here are some things I try to do to tip the scale in my favor (I’d like to publish this publicly if that’s okay):
- Go to bed early and consistently. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Staying up late was probably the worst thing I did for my health, because I’d want to sleep all day and that will cut in on your study time, which will stress you out and just generally snowball into general awfulness. You don’t have to be in bed by like, 8, but try to shoot for 10 or 11. I found 10 works best for me. Try to wake up at the same time every day, too, depending on how many hours of sleep you need. This will vary from person to person. My best friend only needs like 5 hours of sleep to function fine. I need more like 8 or 9. That’s okay. Don’t let yourself feel bad for needing more sleep.
- Budget your time wisely. One thing I like to do at the start of every semester is bust open Google Calendar and enter all my classes and my work schedules (this can also be done in Excel, just fill in the days and hours as your first row and column). Then I look at all the blank space. Those blank spaces are going to be my critical study periods. If you use Google Calendar and have a smartphone, you also have the benefit of setting up alarms so you know when and where you need to be at any given moment. I don’t even bother remembering where I need to go anymore; I just make my phone tell me.
- Start assignments the second you get them. Even if it’s just printing things that you need out or writing your name at the top of the worksheet or whatever. Do something with your homework. The hardest part of any assignment is getting started, but once you do you might find yourself building a little momentum. If you don’t, don’t force it if you don’t have to. Some days you might, especially on time-sensitive work.
- Plan. Everything. It doesn’t matter how. Buy a planner. Use an online planner or app or something. I actually use two things: A physical planner (right now I’m trying Passion Planner), and Any.Do. For Any.Do, I have folders for every class I’m taking, and I entered all the important tasks and due dates for each class in (exams, project due dates, anything big, set-in-stone events you can find in the syllabus). I also have it set up to remind me a day in advance, so I’m never surprised. My physical planner is used for homework and day-to-day, smaller assignments. This system works really well for me, but it might not for you. There will probably be a trial and error period where you find your groove.
- Do as much work on campus/at school as humanly possible. I know some people are more productive at home. I am not one of those people. When I go home, I am done for the day. I might work a little bit if I couldn’t finish everything I wanted to on campus, or if I’m just sick of campus and wearing pants, but for the most part I try to get as much done on campus as I possibly can. I find it to be a much more productive environment for me; I don’t screw around nearly as much.
- Eat. It might sound kind of silly, but seriously. Eat. Eat breakfast. Eat lunch. Eat dinner. Eat snacks. And buy foods you know you’re going to eat: I have a very sensitive stomach in the morning (I always wake up nauseous), but I know there are certain foods I can choke down in the morning, like bagels and granola bars. I keep my pantry stocked with those things. They’re quick to eat, easy to prepare, and I can have a hot breakfast if I want or not. Sometimes a hot meal can make all the difference. And definitely on high spoon days make as much food as you can. Low-spoon you will thank high-spoon you for the leftovers. Also try to sneak in as many fruits and vegetables as you possibly can, even if you don’t like them. I love vegetables, so it’s not a problem for me to eat them, but I hate…HATE…HATEfruit. Passionately. But I can tolerate like…banana-chocolate smoothies (I make them with chocolate flavored Carnation Instant Breakfast for a vitamin boost), or like…apples and cinnamon in oatmeal. If you’re anti-veggie (how dare you) (jk), sneak them into meals by adding them into pasta dishes. Add salsa to tacos. Wilt some spinach or mix some broccoli into your fettucini alfredo. But definitely try to get in some fruits and veggies. Your health should always come first.
- Make a good study playlist. People’s tastes tend to vary, but having music or at the very least white noise can make or break a study session. I personally like the ambient channel on Pandora; it’s got soft, relaxing music without words so I don’t get distracted and try to sing along. But sometimes even that’s too much, and I’ll use Simply Noise (a free white noise generator) to just have some kind of sound running in the background. I get distracted very easily by people speaking, or miscellaneous noises happening around me, so I need to drown those out. I actually prefer the brown noise over the white noise though; the pitch is a lot lower, and doesn’t hurt my ears.
- Take care of yourself as much as you can on the weekends. I use the weekends probably about 80% for self-care and 20% for homework and studying. I let myself sleep in an extra hour, do fun and relaxing things, take a bath, whatever you like to do. If you budget your time wisely (your planner will come in handy for that), you can fudge it so you have more spare time on the weekends. Sometimes it won’t work out that way, and you’ll have to dedicate full weekends to working. That’s okay. Just try to be a little more gentle on yourself throughout the week.
- Take a daily vitamin. If you forget to eat or just can’t bear the idea of making something (which I totally get), at least make sure you’re getting the basic vitamins and minerals your body needs. B-vitamins, Vitamin C and Vitamin D are the top three most important that come to mind for me. I also recommend finding vitamins with iron, but mostly because I have trouble with anemia. Vitamins with iron can be tricky to find though, especially if you have difficulty swallowing pills (I have yet to find a gummy vitamin that contains iron, even for adults). But gummies are totally an option and I highly recommend them! It’s like starting your day off with candy. 😀
- Speak to a guidance counselor or see if your university has a disability services you could register with to receive accommodations for your illness. This is probably one of those things most people don’t think of, but it’s so amazingly helpful during bad times. My university has a department called Disability Services, and if you have a documented illness that affects your performance in school (my university considers depression and mental illness a disability), you can register with them and receive certain accommodations to help sort of even the playing field between you and healthy students, and it is COMPLETELY confidential. I, for example, am allotted a few extra excused absences, and a few extra minutes to get to classes or take exams. I have so far only used these services once or twice, but the fact that I have them is a huge weight off my mind. See if your school does something similar.
- Try to get some gentle exercise in a few times a week. This is kind of hypocritical for me to say because I have the most horrible relationship with exercise you’ve ever seen, but it really can make a difference. Go for a gentle walk, or do some stretches, or dance around your room in your underwear while passionately singing into your hairbrush (…not that I do that or anything). Just get up and move a little. Personally, I consider my hikes to and from classes enough exercise, but this semester I’m trekking back and forth across campus a LOT. I am trying to get back into yoga though.
- Go to your professor’s office hours. I used to hate asking questions in class, to the point where I’d panic and have to sneak away to the bathroom to calm down at the very thought of it. I’m a lot better about it now (it takes a lot of practice and I had to realize that…well, damn it, I’m paying thousands of dollars to be here. I have the right to ask questions, no matter how stupid they are, because I’m the reasons these bitches get paid every week and they owe it to me to cater to my every whim), but if it’s something that still freaks you out, write your questions down. Ask them after class. And definitely, definitely go see your professors during their office hours. Not only is it a great way to get to know them better (networking! and even friendship; one of my best friends is my old Italian professor!), but it also shows them that you’re really putting in the effort to do well, and they’ll remember it. You specifically chased them down for help; professors notice that, and they like it. They’ll bend over backwards for you if they know you’re trying. Even my meanest professors were amazingly kind the second I made an appointment to see them during their office hours, because not a lot of people do it.
- Look into tutoring services. My university offers free tutoring, which is great if you need extra help. But even if you don’t, schedule a tutoring appointment anyway. That way, you’ll have a set period of time once a week where you’re studying that subject, so you aren’t as likely to put it off. Plus, you’ll have someone helping you in case you get stuck, or just need to reinforce some things.
- Learn it. Do it. Teach it. When I was a Girl Scout, my mom (our troop leader), set forth three rules in order for us to earn badges. First, we had to learn how to do something; be it tying knots or starting a fire. Then, we had to do it to prove that we could. Then, we had to teach someone else how to do it, usually in a workshop our troop would host. By doing those three things, we really solidified that knowledge into our brains, and honestly? I graduated Girl Scouts almost six years ago, and I still know how to make a bandanna bandage and how to build a lean-to style fire. So if you’re having trouble remembering things, use this method. And if the idea of teaching someone something is scary, teach your pet. Teach your stuffed animal. Hell, teach your wall. It’ll be better if you have like an actual person so you can see if they’re understanding it as well as you need to, but if someone’s not available, screw it. I used to teach my sister everything I learned in Italian when I was studying it in high school. She was like four. The child barely had a good grasp on English. Didn’t matter to me. Still doesn’t.
- Don’t be afraid or ashamed of taking care of yourself. This is probably the hardest habit to adapt for anyone struggling with depression, because our whole mindset is based around shame. Nobody likes having to take a day off because they can’t keep up with “normal” people (and I say “normal” with THE BIGGEST AIR QUOTES EVER). But you know what? Sometimes you have to. If you’re up at three in the morning sobbing your brains out because you don’t think you can keep going anymore and the whole world feels like it’s closing in on you, then holy shit step back for a moment. Take some breaths. Hug a stuffed animal. Then email your professors to let them know you’re not coming in tomorrow, call off work if you have to (tell them you have a cold, fuck it, you as a person is more important than you as an employee), and go to bed. Then use the next day to take care of yourself. Work on stuff if you feel up to it, but don’t if you don’t. Person-You should always be top priority. Not Student-You, not Employee-You, not Any-Other-Category-You, nothing. You are always a human first, and sometimes you need a mental health day. It happens.
- Reach out. If you’re having a bad day, talk to someone. Vent to a friend or a family member. Talk to a counselor, be it on-campus or off. You don’t have to spill your guts and explain every negative thought you’re having (I personally feel really uncomfortable doing that), but you can still voice little annoyances you had during the day and you’ll feel better. For example, if I’m having a really bad day emotionally, I’ll talk to my mom or my best friend and like…complain about the parking situation on campus, or some other minor annoyance that happened to me. Then they’ll complain too, and before we both know it we’re cracking jokes about the horrible parking situation or how unbelievably bad it smells in the math building and we’re both laughing and I feel much better. Even if I’m not addressing the exact problem, I’ve still managed to boost my mood enough that maybe I feel brave enough to talk about those problems, or just address them on my own time, or even just realize that things aren’t as bad as they felt a few hours ago. My communications professor (and friend of mine) always says this: A positive attitude can and will make all the difference. She’s right.
- Use the pomodoro method of studying. A lot of people recommend it to prevent burnout, but I think it’s doubly important for people who get overwhelmed easily. I can’t focus on things for more than half an hour. The pomodoro method says to study for twenty-five minutes, then take a five-minute break. I find this works very well for me. You might need to tweak the times to fit your needs better, but generally speaking it’s best to study in smaller clumps with frequent breaks in between than it is to cram everything into six solid hours.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water! It’s good for your brain and your body. Don’t like water? Flavor it! My mom hates water but knows she needs to drink more, so she adds grape flavored Propel powder to her water, and I think that’s a fair compromise (she calls it her “purple water” (’: ). Green tea is also acceptable; I like mine iced with a little Splenda and some lemon, but lately I’ve been on a huge water kick. Try to carry a bottle with you to your classes and stuff, too. I just use an old 16-ounce Dasani bottle I bought ages ago (if you do use old plastic bottles like this, try to recycle it after a few uses cuz the plastic will start to disintegrate).
- Be proud of yourself. What you’re doing is not easy. Going to school and getting good grades comes easier to some than others, but it is not in and of itself “easy”. It’s even harder when you’re mentally unwell. You’re amazing, and don’t ever forget that. Praise yourself often, because like L’Oreal says, you’re WORTH IT! GOOD JOB YOU.
That’s about all I can think of right now, but I hope it gave you some good ideas, or inspired you to deal with things in your own way. If nothing else, I hope it helps to know that you’re not alone. Mentally ill people all over the place are going to school and succeeding. Some have to work harder than others, but we all know how the challenge feels, and if you have nobody else you’ll always have a support system here. I believe in you. It is possible to be successful in school, mental illness be damned.
I’m rootin’ for you. If you ever need anything, please shoot me another message.
Best of luck to you!
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