Finals Stress and How to Deal

Amy Julian

Can I get a “Hell YEAH” for the semester being down to the last few days? We’ve made it through another semester of ridiculous amounts of homework, midterms and crazy teachers. But with the end of the semester in sight, many students are dreading, rather than reveling, in the close of these past few months. Why, you ask? The end of the semester = finals. And finals = stress. How do you get through that last stretch of the semester without completely losing your sanity or your social life? It’s true that finals are important, but with your health at risk as a result of all-nighters, stress and excess drinking to cope with the stress, final exams could be more hazardous to your health than you think.

Sure, it sucks waking up early to schlep into school for an 8:30 class (soon to be 8:00 a.m. coming this Fall), even when you have a big test, but students often report that because finals are 3 hours, rather than simply an hour, more material means more studying. And oftentimes finals are weighted far more than a quiz or routine chapter test. Because of this, students report pulling all-nighters to study for their exams, eating less frequently or less nutritionally, overloading on caffeine and generally feeling more irritable and anxious.

It does not, however, mean that finals are inevitably going to cause stress. Sure, I’m freaking about some of my finals, but realistically, they are one test that doesn’t determine the rest of my life. Even if it determines the final grade, that grade, in the grand scheme of things, may bring your GPA down, what, a tenth of a point? If, however, you let the stress overtake you and cause health issues, you are setting yourself up for a fall. And if you are not healthy, fully rested or are recovering from a hangover, your test performance will likely suffer even more than if you had hit the sack an hour or two early.

Here are some things to consider during finals week, and ways to combat the stress that goes along with that “50%-of-your-grade” assessment:

1. SLEEP! While it may seem impossible to cram in shuteye when you have a ton of studying to do, lack of sleep has been shown to cause problems in the autonomic nervous system, which could increase your susceptibility to infections. While you often can function after one night of missed sleep, you are not functioning to your full potential. What’s more is that even if you make it through your final, you are doomed if you have one later in the day or, even worse, within the next few days. Your body can’t handle the stress of missing sleep, so in the long run, you will end up too tired to concentrate on anything else but sleep. So do yourself a favor and shut the book and hit the hay. Even if you wake up an hour early to look over your stuff, you need sleep to reenergize your body and brain!

2. Time-Management. As college students, I’m sure we have been in the following scenario: its 10 p.m. the night before a test or a paper’s due, and we realize we haven’t even started reading or writing. Sound familiar? Going hand-in-hand with sleep, structuring your time so that you don’t run into this problem can eliminate a great deal of stress and allow you to get to bed earlier. With the finals schedule on the WISER system, you can look at your test schedule and plan how long you have to do the readings/practice problems/whatever. Then, as simple as it might sound, start studying a little each night until then. Your brain will be able to process what you learn now more thoroughly rather than trying to skim it and jam it into your brain along with 10 other chapters. So don’t put off studying until the last minute and you will be golden and less stressed!

3. Learn to say “NO.” As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to attend every party or outing with your friends around finals time. While it might stink hearing about how funny it was to see John hammered wearing a bra and makeup, think about the stress you will feel coming home, knowing your books have been collecting dust. Plus, prioritizing and studying for finals now will eliminate the stress and raise confidence in your work so when you finally finish, you can concentrate on having a good time rather than your potentially failed exam. Schedule an end-of-finals party in lieu of nightly hangouts and you will also have something to look forward to, because, hey, you deserve it!

4. Study the hardest things first. I’ve found myself spending time on the easiest subjects and realizing “Oh crap! I still have to learn how to use the binomial formula, regression and do inferential stats!” Needless to say, the stress level skyrocketed and I got a major headache. Try and get the hardest stuff, the stuff that will take you the longest, out of the way first so that you can fully comprehend what you are learning. Once you have your confidence up, you’ll be able to breeze through other studying. Have two major classes? Try and focus on the test you have first, obviously.

5. Eat right and exercise. Nothing can make you feel worse physically than eating crap and not moving. So take a break from studying, even for 15 minutes, and take a walk or go for a jog around the block. Releasing endorphins through exercise is the best way to relieve stress and calm you down. Instead of eating chips and soda during your study sessions, reach for foods with a good mix of healthy fats, protein and carbohydrates. Having a nutritionally balanced diet will allow your brain to be able to function better and process the information.

6. Meditate or try yoga. Meditation doesn’t have to be on a mat with your legs crossed, fingers shaped as O’s while you hum “Om.” It could even be something as simple as closing your eyes, and taking a long deep breath. Tense up your entire body, hold for 5-10 seconds and release, feeling the release and calm come over your whole body. Stand up and stretch. Do something to realign your mind and body to decrease stress and achieve overall well-being. And hey, if you’ve got the money, treat yourself to a nice stress-relieving massage.

7. RELAX! Easier said than done, I know. But think of it this way. It’s one test. Sure it may determine your grade, but still, it’s just one grade. I’m the queen of freaking out about grades, so I know how devastating it can feel get a B instead of an A. Even if you are taking a test in a course that weighs heavily in grad school, it’s just one grade. So you got a B in Neuroscience or Accounting? You still have your killer personality to overshadow that grade when it comes to grad school admissions. I’ll share my in-progress philosophy with you: “I am not a number-I’m not my weight, I’m not my paycheck and I’m not my GPA.”

Good luck to everyone with finals and remember to try and relax. You’ve made it this far and you should be proud. Once finals week is over, go out and have some fun; get a mani-pedi, watch a Celtics game (knock on wood) with your buddies, buy yourself something nice, eat something special. Because you’ve earned it.