Illustration by Esme Blegvad.

Illustration by Esme Blegvad.

Let me start this off by saying that, mentally, I’m in a pretty good place in my life. I’m finally living out all the preachy (and sometimes unsolicited) advice I’ve been giving my friends for years. All that “love yourself” and “know your worth” mumbo jumbo? Yeah, it’s finally sinking in.

In other words: I’m officially on my eat, pray, love shit.

But even at PEAK mental prosperity [insert angel emoji], uncomfortable moments do present themselves and still have power to take a toll on my headspace. “Bad” weeks for me are usually when I don’t have as much time for self-care (because of midterms, finals, or anything else exam-related). It’s not so much the work that pokes at my sense of wellbeing. I pride myself on being a master procrastinator, but everything gets done. And thanks to my A-1 finessing skills, I’ll figure a way to get a passing grade. What really gets to me is something I like to call the Anxiety Domino Effect. (Dun dun dun!)

Sound intense? Yep, it is. It’s like this: One or two days will go by, and I’ll notice I’m feeling some weird, not-so-chill feelings. I can’t exactly pinpoint them, but I do recognize that I’m not feeling my normal zest for life. What do I do with these feelings?

At any other time, I’d investigate them. I would sit down with myself and ask myself, Why? Why are you feeling scared? I’d change my sheets and sleep with my fuzzy blanket. Hell, I’d even whip out my unicorn pillow pet to cuddle with. My sad spell would become a sacred healing session designated for doing all the things that Zoé likes to do. I’d cry, write angsty poetry, maybe have a couple photoshoots. Basically, I would step up to the plate for myself. A part of me would become Super Zoé so the side of me that was feeling emo + wrecked could safely figure out some really complex feelings.

But the end of the spring semester is not a normal time. I’m just too busy to slow down and hear myself out about what’s causing me to feel overwhelmed. I tell myself, “I’ll deal with you soon! I promise! But just not right now.” Right now, I have to navigate looming deadlines, final exams, and conversations about expected graduation dates. Right now, mental health isn’t my first priority. (Red flag!!!!!)

A day or two can quickly become a week, and these feelings can grow into something much bigger than I expected (hence, the Anxiety Domino Effect). What started off as a tameable campfire fueled by my subconscious insecurities and self-doubt becomes a full-fledged forest fire. Hashtag halp.

So the question is, how can I perform some serious damage control when I’m already running on E from a treacherous finals week? Exams are over, grades are finalized, and advising appointments have been reconciled, but now I’m left with a shitty mental state and feeling a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t take better care of the fragile, easily frazzled Zoé in me that I know is sensitive to stress.

Fortunately, I’ve been through my fair share of stressful weeks to know that slipping up isn’t the end of the world (even though it may feel like it is). Over time, I’ve learned ways to help myself overcome a messy week. Here’s how I get myself back on track after skipping out on my self-care routine:

Forgive yourself!!! It’s easy to feel guilty about not staying upbeat and positive during times of high stress, but try to remember that you did your best (and even if you didn’t, cut yourself some slack). Your “best” is constantly fluctuating. During finals week, your best will definitely not be the same as it is when you’re living carefree.

Scrub your worries away. OK, this is a tiny trick I like to do while I’m in the shower. Whenever I have a million things bombarding me—whether they’re relationship problems, school, family issues, WHATEVER—I take 10 minutes to scrub away my worries. Here’s how: Pick a limb, any limb, to scrub for each dilemma you’re having at the moment. For example: If you just got into a major fight with your best friend, dedicate one leg to her/him and say some comforting words while you scrub your leg. (Did I lose you? I know it’s a bit unusual, but hear me out!!!) Validate whatever feelings come to the surface, and send some positive words/thoughts into the universe while you scrub. I don’t know how or when I started doing this, but it’s the most therapeutic thing EVER! I come out of the shower feeling a lot less weighed down AND squeaky clean. Weird? Maybe. Helpful? Heck yes.

Hit up your squad. During finals week, I tend to isolate myself due to stress and anxiety. Trust me: Isolating yourself only makes things worse. Even FaceTiming a close friend and telling them about your week will help you feel better. Promise.

Spend some time alone. Major contradiction from my previous tip! But also super important. In the wise words of Queen of R&B, Lauryn Hill: “How you gon’ win when you ain’t right within?” Take a breather. Give yourself a hug. Just let yourself be you for a while. Sometimes the best way to bounce back from a tough week is to go inward. I especially like to listen to Jazz Samba while getting lost in my own thoughts. I’ll usually daydream about my goals and picture them manifesting IRL. Try and think out thoughts that make you feel bigger than worldly problems. Anything that makes you feel warm and fuzzy is what you should be focusing on.

Celebrate. You just survived finals week! And a WHOLE semester of papers, tests, quizzes, and much, much more!!! Go out and celebrate yourself! How you celebrate is your choice. Personally, I like to disco-dance the night away with my girls, but it’s up to you! Just make sure you treat yo’ self!

With school, part-time jobs, and other responsibilities, life can become overwhelming, really fast. Don’t beat yourself up that you weren’t a self-care god/dess during the intense moments. There are always more chances to take care of you. OK? OK <3 ♦