Did you know that stress could actually destroy your health? Experts from AsapSCIENCE explain the pathology behind the question Can Stress Actually Kill You? The psychology behind how we triage our academic priorities during finals week involves the same hormones involved in an extremely stressful situation such as being chased by an angry bear! Throughout my undergraduate experience and stress as a graduate student, I’ve learned that some stress can be healthy and motivating but too much stress is damaging to our long-term health. Prolonged stress can affect our performance and has significant impact on our ability to learn because of the detrimental effects on our brain and mental health.
Here are 10 ways to stay sane during finals week:
1. Stick to a Clean Diet
All of the variables I just listed are the basic vitals for checking if you are currently within healthy limits. Whether it’s finals week or fashion week, having a healthy diet can significantly reduce anxiety and set you up for a better mentality in tackling your finals. We are all guilty of consuming for coffee in one week than we’d actually drink in an entire semester but drinking water will help control hormones that cause you stress, especially cortisol. Challenge yourself and avoid eating your feelings during the most stressful time of the semester. We all love ordering late-night pizza and sweets but the sugar rush won’t last forever and it’ll be even more difficult to finish that 30-page paper when you’ve crashed. My favorite snacks for staying awake and focused are blueberries and healthy bars.
2. Exercise for Your Brain
Studies show that exercise can lead to more effective studying habits. Engaging in light exercise immediately after studying assists the brain’s encoding and processing information. Harvard Studies reported that exercise reduces hormones that cause inflammation and it increases hormone levels for the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. I usually read for 45 minutes to 1 hour while using the elliptical because I am easily distracted whenever I sit down and read. After a little cardio, I like to do 20 minutes of strength training while scrolling through my Quizlet flashcards on my phone.
3. Organize, Organize and Organize
Before the semester starts, I always print and pin all the syllabi for my courses and highlight the dates of each exam and final. I also keep these dates in my planner and specify 1 and 2 weeks ahead before the date of the exam that there is an upcoming exam. Knowing what is ahead of you gives you more time to plan out how much time you need to study, which times work best for getting together for group projects, and what dates and times you need to block off so that you can see your professor and TA during office hours. It also helps your mental state when you keep of list of things to do and you continuously cross off tasks. You can easily avoid forgetting important dates and tasks by making this a habit.
4. Take 15 Minutes to Talk About Your Feelings
My favorite way to get rid of my stress is to call my Mom and vent about everything. Moms are the best they’ll listen and won’t get stressed or annoyed if you cry because they understand and aren’t taking your finals for you. When you’re exhausted and feel like you’ve given up, give your Mom a call.
5. Set Your Alarms
Every college student’s biggest fear is sleeping in during an exam…so do everything you can to cross off that fear on your list. Give yourself 2 hours to freshen up, eat something, and walk to your exam because anything can happen and the last thing you need is to stress out from the thought of being late. Set your alarms on your phone and hook your phone up to loud speakers. Ask your roommates when their finals are and maybe you can all coordinate a wake-up call. If you’re still worried, ask your Mom to call you and download this Wake Up Time – Alarm Clock on your laptop. You are guaranteed to wake up on time.
6. Prepare A Week Before Finals Week
When it’s finals week, anything goes. You’re setting yourself up for success if you prepare ahead of time. Even if you’re not ready for the Calculus III final, you can at least confidently check off that you have your graphing calculator and an extra set of batteries. I like to indulge in my favorite pastime, which is shopping for school supplies. Feeling prepared with my ballpoint pens, Japanese erasers, emergency headphones, pink highlighters, and adorable post-its can make the anticipation for finals week slightly more tolerable.
7. Don’t Forget to Sleep
Research studies conducted by Nature and Science of Sleep, found that sleep deprivation is prevalent in college students and has led to lower GPAs, difficulty concentrating, and changes in mood. To increase overall productivity and brain function, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is the key. Sleep allows the brain to process all your lectures and notes, which can be developed into patterns as you rest away. The brain’s glymphatic system and lymphatic system are severely disrupted without sleep.
8. Avoid Germs
I may be over cautious but I’ve learned that getting sick during finals can make the entire experience 10 times worse, which is why I’ve been keeping with my flu shots. I also pay close attention to the places I choose to study and will sanitize my space because there is no certain way of knowing who’s been there before me and if that person was sick. As simple and silly as it sounds, remember to wash your hands thoroughly and to be cautious of whom you share food and drinks with. Every college student would rather take a final feeling healthy and not coughing throughout the entire final.
Interesting studies have found that smiling can reduce levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone. Before you breakdown when you realize you still have 8 more practice exams to go through, take some time to watch a hilarious vine. I always watch vines by Jake Paul when I’m having writers block and need to finish up a paper that’s due at 11:59PM.
10. Meditate On the Day of the Final
When you have one hour before the final, take at least 10 minutes to meditate and reach a calm state of mind. Stay away from everyone who is about to take the same final because chances are they are just as stressed and stress is contagious. Review your flashcards and notes but don’t try to do intense studying because you’ll only stress yourself out more with unproductive cramming.
Looking for test-taking tips? Check out “Your Guide to Test Taking: How Psychology Can Help.”