5 ways to better manage finals stress

Post by IU Communications colleague Milana Katic:

Student studying

A student studies at the Wells Library. Photo by Eric Rudd, IU Communications.

It’s the end of the semester. Dead week is actually alive and well with final papers and presentations, and you have eight to 16 weeks’ worth of information waiting to be crammed into your brain for at least four different subjects next week. Needless to say, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed.

“Stress is normal to feel, and it’s nothing to fear or try to avoid,” said Chris Ann Meno, psychologist and outreach coordinator at Indiana University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. “Low to moderate levels of stress are shown to increase performance on tasks. It’s only when stress levels go above the moderate range that stress can decrease performance.”

To keep stress in a healthy range this finals season, try following some of these helpful tips from IU experts:

1. Get some sleep

All-nighters may sound like a rite of passage while in college, but the truth is, it’s crucial to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night, especially when you’re already experiencing stress. In fact, lack of sleep can actually have a negative effect on present stress levels. “We feel more stressed due to lack of sleep,” Meno said, “by some studies, as much as 30 percent.” So please get some shut eye.

2. Eat well

In one day, you might be facing a presentation, an exam and a paper, and proper nutrition will give you what you need to get through it,” said Rachel Noirot, registered dietitian for IU’s Residential Programs and Services. “Just like an endurance runner, you’re going to need quality fuel so you can optimally function.” Noirot suggests starting the day with carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, with a protein like Greek yogurt, eggs or milk to give yourself plenty of energy. It also helps to plan ahead by packing a cooler with several snacks, such as a sandwich on whole grain, fruit or cheese to help keep your blood sugar up throughout the day. “Put in food that you’re excited about too,” Noirot said. “It’s OK to have a cookie, just make sure you’re balancing that out with other nutrients.”

3. Stay away from stimulants

Unless you have a prescription, don’t take stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin to help you focus, or anti-anxiety medication like Xanax or Klonopin to ease your stress. Along with potentially negatively altering the chemical make-up in your body, it’s also illegal to possess these medications without a prescription (and getting arrested would not help your stress levels AT ALL). If you need a boost, Meno suggests taking some time to exercise to loosen the muscles in your body and get positive chemical effects for your brain naturally.

Stack of books

In all of the studying, remember to also take time for yourself. Photo by Eric Rudd, IU Communications.

4. Organize your days

When you feel like you have too many tasks to tackle, it’s important to break them down into manageable goals. “Make a plan for what you need to be successful, and then be meticulous about making a schedule to be successful. Focus is important,” said Deb Getz, assistant clinical professor of applied health science in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington. She suggests outlining each day for the rest of the semester with assigned times for when you specifically want to accomplish your tasks, along with setting aside at least 20 minutes every day to take a break for a walk outside and meal planning.

5. Remember to take it easy

You’ve worked hard all semester, and though the work may be piled higher now, you still deserve a good break. Luckily, you can take one right in the middle of studying on campus by visiting IU Health and Wellness in the Indiana Memorial Union. If you feel like indulging a bit, they offer 10-minute chair massages for just $10 if you’ve paid your student health fee (which the office can check for you). They also offer free de-stressing activities, like coloring book pages and crayons, and a “Zen room” with a two-seated La-Z-Boy and relaxing music — perfect for a quick nap.

If you’re feeling too overwhelmed, don’t forget that every student has two free counseling sessions at CAPS each semester. Call 812-855-5711 to schedule an appointment, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, or after hours to reach a crisis counselor.

And just remember: You got this.

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