Memento mori, my fellow men.

It is the end of the semester, and I have nothing left in the tank. No interest, no willpower. Yet I still need to do a lot of work for a philosophy paper, as well as prepare for exams. Not even knowing that keeping my scholarship may depend on finishing the semester well can jolt my focus back into line.

To those who have been here and survived, what did you do?

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Its only another week or two.  Sack up and press on.

 

It gets worse.  Once you graduate, there is no end of the semester.

 

JB

Eh, December is a lot less stressful when you have only your usual work responsibilities, plus all the holiday stuff; rather than extra school responsibilities, the holiday stuff, and preparing to more or less move several hundred or thousand miles. Of course, my holiday stuff doesn't involve much family stuff - no daughter in the children's Nutcracker or anything.

Matthew, for December exams especially, I usually took half a day off from schoolwork at the beginning of the exam or reading period to organize stuff. I'd pack as much as I could, at least make a list for holiday/family responsibilities, and make a schedule for the schoolwork. Once I knew, "Wednesday evening I will finish this paper. Thursday morning I will study for that class" etc., the end of the semester didn't seem so overwhelming.

I'm a junior going through the same thing, and if I can offer any advice, it's this: you'll get through it. But be warned, it NEVER gets easier to deal with, and every single semester you'll feel like there's no possible way you can survive. But lo and behold, you'll survive. I have three 10 pagers (all philosophy, coincidentally) due tomorrow or Friday, and yet I'm wasting time here. 

Also, you will eventually hit a state of near transcendent sleep deprivation, where you can't distinguish sleep from reality, where time is distorted, and where thoughts run together as though separated from your consciousness. At that point, you'll feel a sudden sense of peacefulness.

I have nothing left in the tank. No interest, no willpower.

Matthew, the part of your brain that keeps you on track for accomplishing a goal is called the anterior cingulate cortex. I'd suggest looking it up except that you can't afford that distraction at the moment, so please don't and just take my word for it.

It is a very "hungry" part of the brain. It requires a lot of glucose, which is used to make neurotransmitters. If it doesn't get the sugar, it shuts down operations, and the symptoms are rather as you describe. A lot of different things including stress can cause this state of affairs.

You can't just feed it more sugar, because then your insulin spikes and your blood sugar actually crashes. You need to build it up gradually. Eat regular meals, eat plenty of 'slow carbs'--starch not sugar, with plenty of fiber to slow down your digestion. Stay away from sugar. Get plenty of sleep, and pace yourself into the home stretch.

You might be having another problem too, related to your level of a neurotransmitter called "dopamine". Dopamine figures in the motivational system of the brain. If your baseline dopamine level is low, that's a problem. Oddly enough (actually, not so odd when you think about it carefully), it impacts your working memory. If you are having difficulty focusing, and if you are feeling "down" or just not too happy, this is likely to be a problem.

That's a little harder to come up with a quick fix for. When you do sleep, try to get deep relaxation. Let go of all stressed feelings. This might be difficult to do while you are under pressure. Try this: exhale three times with sort of an "ahhhhh" sigh...to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Right now, your probably in sympathetic nervous system mode--"fight or flight". You need to turn that off, because it's preparing you for a physical fight, not for getting your term paper finished and studying for your exams.


Whenever you feel yourself stressed, take the 3 cleansing breaths, and also, if you can spare a few moments, think about someone you love and feel yourself to be loved. Be grateful for what you have. Think warm, loving, cuddly thoughts. This will stimulate production of a hormone known as "oxytocin", which will help keep you calm and heal some of the damage caused by the stress hormone cortisol.

As you do your work, stay totally and completely focused on the PRESENT MOMENT. If you catch yourself worrying about the deadline or finals or some other event in the future, or for that matter, the past, gently guide your attention back to the PRESENT MOMENT, and get back to your work. Ask yourself "what needs to be done RIGHT NOW?" and stay focused on that. Just take the next step, and do NOT worry about the whole process. Just stay focused on the next step and getting it done. Do not allow your mind to wander to something you might feel like worrying about.

To the best of your ability, take delight in the work itself. Let go of attachments to finals, graduation, or any other future event or external reward. Instead, take an interest in the topic of your paper, be genuinely curious and fascinated by the topic. Take delight in doing a good job. This is a state called "Flow", described by Csíkszentmihályi Mihály (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). Don't get distracted now, but when you have finished your quarter, look it up and learn how to put yourself in that state. I can help you sift through the only relevant part of the book, which has got to be one of the most boring I have ever read in my life--but it is very important nevertheless. Over the holidays, I suggest learning how to put yourself in this state to get your work done.

Great success to you finishing out the quarter successfully and maintaining your scholarship. I know you can do it and offer you all my encouragement.

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