Stress Management During Finals

This article will dive into multiple strategies you can deploy to be organized and feel prepared for finals while managing the stress you will inevitably face.

By Carter Thompson — December 13, 2023

Stress Management During Finals

The inevitable chaos of finals week is on the horizon and approaching you fast-but are you prepared for the storm? Many students may find themselves overwhelmed by finals week with how it can feel like too much to handle. This article will dive into multiple strategies you can deploy to be organized and feel prepared for finals while managing the stress you will inevitably face.

Focus on the Little Things

The first thing I recommend for breaking up the large amount of content to review, for multiple courses, is by focusing on the smaller details. Start by setting smart, small, attainable daily goals for yourself as soon as possible. This will help you break your studying down into smaller chunks and work towards your ultimate goal to be at your best come time for you to sit for your finals. Achieving these small daily study goals will help you stay focused on the positives in your day. Take time to be present and enjoy those little moments: the food you eat, the fresh air on your way to class, sunlight, plants, etc. Make sure you accept that you cannot control everything or change the past—for example the studying you didn't prioritize—so just focus on doing the best you can for the next hour/day that's in front of you. If you focus on the little things and being present, then you're destined to get your big goals accomplished too.

Study in Increments

Build out an optimal study schedule that is maintainable yet productive for you. Whatever it looks like, make sure you stick to your agreed study schedule because that will help you stay in your peak studying, retention, and learning mode. Many researchers have found that you learn and retain more if you sit down, organize what needs to be done first, and then focus on achieving one specific part at a time with short scheduled study breaks. This means no multitasking, since it helps you do a lot while only achieving a little bit. My favorite way to study is to set a 45-minute timer on my phone where I focus as deeply as I can for each minute, but then right after I set a 15-minute timer to take a decompressing break. Keep in mind that humans can only focus for so long before we lose our productivity, so it's vital you make a point to give your eyes and brain a break by stepping away from your screen or notebook for a bit to read a book, for example. Whatever study plan you build, make sure it provides you with enough space to run the studying race with endurance.

Avoid Unnecessary Screen Time

As mentioned before, make sure you give your eyes and brain a break from your screen by avoiding the consumption of unnecessary screen time. Eustress is the good stress that helps you grow, but distress is the bad stress that can build up and infect your mind and body. Distress raises your cortisol levels and sends your body into fight or flight mode. Screen time through the form of intense shows/movies, constantly checking/refreshing your email, viewing news sources (reading, listening, and/or viewing), swiping through social media, etc. can raise your stress levels. These previously mentioned entertainment avenues are great at tapping into your distress to get and maintain your attention. This is why extra screen time should be avoided, if possible, when you're preparing for finals so you can maintain your mental acuity.

Mitigate Distractions

Technology is a great example of why it's important to manage your distractions, and this can take many forms. One common way to keep distractions at a minimum is by physically distancing yourself from others. Go to a quiet, comfortable place where you sit down to work, for example the library. By frequenting one spot whenever you need to achieve deep focus you will train your brain to associate this location as a place of work. Soon it will be easier for you to reach and stay in a mode of work because of how you prepare yourself to avoid distractions. I encourage you to at least leave your room to study by yourself and disable your phone via "do not disturb." Another great way to stay focused is by setting work or office hours that you hold yourself accountable to. The bottom line is that you should set boundaries and stick to them if you plan to be as productive as possible in preparation for your final's week.

Maintain Self-Care

No matter how stressful your finals week has you feeling, make sure you do not sacrifice your self-care. Make sure to take quiet time for yourself for things like deep breathing, stretching, yoga, prayer, meditation, mindfulness, journaling, visualization, or whatever helps you to reorient yourself back on track. Additionally, I strongly encourage you to maintain your exercise regimen. Although it can seem like an inconvenient waste of your time, exercise is very important for enhancing your mental acuity by helping you manage and release stress. It's generally recommended to have a minimum of 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise per day—which is only 2% of your day—for you to function, feel, and focus your best.

Beneficial self-care for yourself might also look like listening to music, taking a nap, petting a dog, or going for a drive. It's also beneficial to take care of your body's digestive and energy systems by eating good food. Chew and enjoy your bites fully to keep you grounded in stressful times, as well as stay away from processed junk foods no matter what dietary lifestyle you subscribe to. But, above all, make sure you sleep! Sleep is your superpower and the largest performance enhancer known to humankind, so use it to your advantage by getting a consistently timed eight hours of sleep each night.

Maintain Social Connections

Even if your schedule seems impossibly loaded, make time to still invest in your relationships with your friends and family. Maintaining this social contact with loved ones should keep you feeling more emotionally stable and fulfilled during these trying times. You can call a parent, hug someone you love, or schedule quality time with a significant other, but the bottom line is that you avoid isolating yourself from everyone around you. Make time to connect and study with a friend, acquaintance, or tutor who is proficient and will help you focus on the material you're studying or struggling with. Just make sure your social interactions stay sober by avoiding all psychoactive substances (alcohol, drugs, etc.) if you want to do your best. The only exception is caffeine, which should still be consumed in moderation. You know how much is too much. Be honest with yourself and don't overdo it.

Concluding Thoughts

Above all, give yourself grace. If you're doing the best, you can each day by giving whatever your 100% is to what needs to be done, you can't be mad at yourself. Take a few deep breaths, keep your head up, and just keep pushing forward. Keep in mind that "this too shall pass." You may not prepare and perform as well as you hope you could, but if you give everything you can to your preparation, you can be confident knowing you did your best. Be kind to yourself, and good luck!

Carter Thompson

Carter Thompson

Carter is currently seeking his undergraduate degree in Exercise Science under the Pre-Physical Therapy Program at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He will go on to complete his Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree at an accredited university with the end goal of applying industry-leading recovery treatments as a Physical Therapist for either Division I or professional athletic teams.
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