Solid Gold Advice: How Do I Manage Stress During Finals?

How do I manage stress for finals? I feel totally overwhelmed.

It is that time of year again. The time where all that is standing between you and a month off is a bunch of final papers and tests and if you could just, well, survive the week, you could go relax with your friends and family and not think about school.

The problem is all of that is easier said than done. Sometimes that week of course ending assignments and exams seems like an impossible hurdle to get over and it can even feel like you will never get to go home. You then put a ton of pressure on yourselves to do well, and most of that is to be expected, however, in the meantime, you also forget to take care of yourself.  

It can be hard to think beyond your test and how important your test is (or at least seems), yet, it is important, at least, to try.  Here are some things to keep in mind during finals time:

1)     You need to sleep and eat: This may seem like an obvious thing to you, but it is often the first thing to go when you are stressed out. The phrase: “I don’t even have time to sleep” comes to mind.  Not sleeping can cause you to have trouble concentrating, which is counterproductive when you need to focus for an exam, and might even lead you to have uncontrollable emotions like sadness or anxiety. I know it can often feel like if you just studied one more hour you would do that much better, but in actuality, that extra hour of not sleeping is worse for you and your overall ability to perform than you realize.  In other words, try your hardest to prioritize the lowest part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs ( and the rest will follow.


2)     It is OK to take a break and do something fun: As you study or write all day, plan in (yes actually schedule in), times to break up your studying with things you can enjoy or things you can look forward to. You are not “being lazy” if you choose to get lunch with friends or go to a movie after you studied for most of the day. You can even go to the gym or a gym class as that can help your mood or decrease your overall level of anxiety. I hear you saying “but I will just be anxious the whole time about how I am not studying” and while that might be the case initially, try, instead, to think of these times as ways to help your studying and make you more successful. It can feel like a “waste of time”, but even taking a break for 30 minutes will let you hit reset, decrease your overall stress levels, and lead to more productivity in the long run.  Having scheduled times in can also serve as motivation and something to look forward to if you can just finish XYZ in the interim.

Note: If you can’t commit to something that might be longer (a meal), at least take breaks for stress reducing short activities like listening to music, deep breathing, or going for a short walk.


3)     Break down your 100 assignments into smaller chunks: One of the things that can feel overwhelming when you are anxious or stressed about work is that all of your assignments can blend together to make one big “all of this is happening and I don’t know how to do it”. This can happen at all times of the year but often happens at finals- our anxious brains do not handle thinking about the future very well. The easiest way to get over this is to take a big assignment (like writing a paper) and break it into doable chunks that you can check off a to-do list (write an outline, write an introduction, write a page). You will still get to the same ending, but this way there are actual rewards along the way. It also allows your brain to see the pieces and not just the whole puzzle- and these smaller tasks feel much less daunting than the big ones.

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