Santa’s exam season gift: resilience

Dr. Donna’s advice for stressed out students

‘Tis the season to be harried! Realizing that not all of you will celebrate Christmas, I still thought we’d poke a little fun at the holiday season. In doing so, I’m going to give you the gift of a superpower, possibly the most powerful tool you can possess to keep healthy and sane during the upcoming exam session, but, like many presents, it will come with “some assembly required”.

What better inspiration for university students as they finish term work and study for exams than that red hooded hero superhero, Santa Claus. Santa Claus? A role model? True, he has the BMI of the Goodyear blimp and an atrocious fashion sense that not even a cross-dressing elf would copy. Agreed, he has a serious eating disorder and a drug habit from smoking who knows what in those pipes that he and Frosty share.

However, despite being an unpaid chimney sweep and no matter how many spiked eggnogs he has consumed the night before, Santa gets the job done on time every year.

No one asks if he likes the job. No one worries that the world population keeps increasing. No one expects Santa will one day just give up and go drink Coronas in Mexico. So what superpower keeps this hero going, despite having a task bigger than uniting the Republicans and the Democrats? RESILIENCE. The Tubthumping mantra, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down” should be every student’s seasonal carol. Here’s the assembly kit:

Have FAITH. Develop a study plan that doesn’t involve playing four hours nightly of Call of Duty. If you want to climb the Grinch’s Mount Crumpit, you have to put one foot in front of the other and concentrate on the climb, not the peak. If you don’t reach the top, you will still have a pretty good view. Stay mindful and focussed on what you are reading and stop stewing about whether you will pass the exam. Worrying never changed the outcome of anything. If you do the best you can, it is truly all you can do. Have faith that it will be enough.

Maintain HOPE. Do you buy lotto 649 tickets? No one really expects to win but most hope that they can maybe make a few bucks from time to time, and occasionally someone does hit the jackpot. You don’t have to be an optimist to win. Even pessimists buy tickets on Lotto Max. After the exam is over, don’t waste energy worrying if “July 4, in Humptulips, Washington” was the right answer to Question 4. Put the ticket you bought aside, and wait with hope for the winning numbers to be announced.

LOVE yourself. Nap for 10 minutes when your brain feels like it is on overload. Dance like a loon around the living room to get the fidgets out, but maybe close the drapes first so the neighbors don’t call the mental health crisis response team. Take a coffee break but have a gingerbread latte instead. Enjoy peppermint candy canes while reading your Econ notes. Shamelessly read 50 Shades of Grey before bed. Paint your nails powder blue with little white snowflakes. Go to hockey and ignore the guys’ comments about your nails. Love others, too; just remember your condoms, please.

Remain at PEACE. Take some big “belly breaths” when you feel the anxiety creeping in. Accept that, despite faith, hope and love, sometimes things won’t work out. Accept that you won’t win every hockey game, regardless of how pretty your nails are. Accept that you are in a period of discovery about yourself and that a bad exam does not mean you are a bad person. Would you think less of Santa if he couldn’t do derivatives? Would you think less of yourself if you couldn’t drive a sleigh?

And finally, find JOY. Celebrate something every day. Celebrate the community you belong to. Celebrate that change, challenge, and adversity are a part of being alive. Celebrate that you had the fortitude and the courage to try something challenging, regardless of the outcome. Celebrate that you may soon be home for the holidays and that the season of testing will turn into the season of resting. Look forward to Santa’s visit if you are celebrating Christmas. If you’re really lucky, he’ll find you sipping a Corona in Mexico.

Resilience is a superpower that anyone can develop and every student should own. Dean Becker, the president and CEO of Adaptiv Learning Systems, has said, “more than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails”. Assemble your own resilience: a superpower that will serve you well not only through exams, but in life. Go, get knocked down but get up again and never let anything keep you down. Then eat turkey and stuffing ‘till you pass out on the couch watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

Dr. Donna Cave is the Director of University Wellness Services at the University of Alberta.