Managing the Stress of Finals

April 23, 2021

Managing the Stress of Finals

It’s hard to think of something more stress-inducing for college students than finals. Even after the year we’ve just had. And it makes sense. Anything we value or find important (like, hopefully, your grades) is going to create some level of anxiety. But this is not all bad. A certain amount of stress is what helps motivate us to do well. The key is finding an effective way to manage that stress so it doesn’t spiral out of control.

Prioritize planning over perfection. Yes, you want to pass your classes and do well, but when perfection, or near perfection, is your goal, it can heap on the pressure. What’s usually more effective is a plan. Just 30 minutes of planning can save hours of wasted time (and last-minute panic). Outline your exam schedule, and prioritize which subjects need the most attention. Figure out where you need help, and ask for it… from your instructor/TA, a classmate, a study group (maybe one you can create). Then use your Google calendar, or a paper one, to outline how you’ll spend your time over the next week(s).

Give yourself a break. Though every minute seems precious when you have a big test looming, studies show that short breaks help you focus so you’re more productive and better able to retain information. Maybe for you that’s getting out for a walk, or listening to music. Maybe it’s an Insta break (although getting away from the screens is preferable). Just do something you enjoy… if that means doing nothing, give yourself permission to just do nothing for a little while.

Don’t forget your body. Study after study shows the benefits of exercise on our body’s ability to handle stress. So try to get moving every day, preferably outdoors (even stretching counts!). And focus on getting plenty of sleep, water and healthy foods. It’s hard to stay focused, and easy to get distracted, on an empty stomach or little to no sleep. You can also try a meditation for sleep or anxiety from apps like Headspace, Calm or Insight Timer.

Talk to someone. My father-in-law has a favorite saying … “A problem shared is a problem halved.” Yes, it eases the burden, but it can also help you figure out exactly what’s triggering your stress, and how to better manage it. Maybe it’s lack of sleep. Maybe it’s your study partner who’s even more stressed than you.

Who do you generally talk to when you have a problem, or just to vent? If you’re in need of someone, reach out to a counselor through Be Well with Hillel or your counseling center to help you plan, prioritize, or just brainstorm ways to manage test anxiety on the day of your final.

Exams are important, yes, and you want to put your best foot forward, but remember, you are more than your achievements, or a final grade on a test, especially during a pandemic. Your resilience in getting here says a whole lot more.

- Susan Fishman, LCSW, JF&CS Therapist with Be Well With Hillel