Eight Tips for Finals Week Stress
Listen up, college students (and those who love them)! That time of fear and loathing is nipping at your heels. Yes, finals week is almost here. So I thought I’d share a few pointers on learning, performance and test anxiety.
High on the list of counter-productive moves for test taking are these: pulling all-nighters, overuse of caffeine and sugar, taking amphetamines to increase focus, fleeing into procrastination and distraction with social media, stopping regular exercise, and trying to ingest too much information in too short a time.
Here are a few tips. Read this and save yourself some grief:
- Check the basics before diving in. Sounds obvious, but before you do anything else, take a look at your schedule to get an overview to find out exactly where and when these exams are going to happen and in what order. You do NOT want to be thrown off your game and scrambling around at the last minute, because you arrived at the wrong door on the wrong day. So study the calendar, assess the total picture and prioritize. For support and confidence in organizing yourself in the best possible way, listen to Traci Stein’s Self-Hypnosis for Procrastination, because there’s a short segment in there, and it’s so encouraging of step-by-step planning and performance.
- Enough with the all-nighters. This is one of the worst things you can do to yourself and will sabotage performance on an exam. (The only thing worse is not showing up at all, because you nodded off in your chair and slept right through it.) Brain science tells us that weary brains are lousy at retaining information, let alone coughing it back up coherently. What you need is sleep, so you can have a smooth-working, well-tuned instrument (the instrument being you). I’m talking quality sleep, even if it’s not as much as need. For deep, restorative, brain-nourishing sleep, go to bed with our guided imagery for Healthful Sleep.
- Keep moving. Speaking of tuning the instrument, you can also get more blood into your brain with even 15 minutes of aerobic exercise, if that’s all you can afford. Fifteen minutes of moving your limbs will energize you, flood your gray matter with oxygen and nutrients and release excess stress. Really, this can’t be beat. Try to do this while studying and just before a final – it’s a great idea to leave time to walk briskly over to the exam room if at all possible.
- Eat well, even though, when you’re overtired or stressed, you’re likely to crave sugar or processed carbs. Resist this stuff, unless you want to get very, very tired after a short-lived spike in energy. The fuel you need for studying and test-taking is protein and complex carbs that will steadily release energy into your bloodstream over the long haul. This means nuts or peanut butter on whole grain bread or crackers, turkey slices, cheese, carrot and celery sticks with hummus – that sort of thing. Eat protein with some fat in it just before the test-taking begins (think peanut butter as an exemplary uber-snack).
- Just say "no" to caffeine overkill. You may be main-lining caffeine or drinking those zippy, caffeine-loaded energy drinks to help you stay awake. Maybe you’re popping amphetamines or your younger brother’s Ritalin. In the not-so-long run, this too will tire you out and mess up your wiring. And while they’re wreaking havoc on your nervous system, they can also delude you into feeling that the studying is going just swimmingly when it’s not.
- Study in blocks and mix it up. You may think to yourself, well, okay – I’ve got a good 12 hours to study for this next exam. But that doesn’t take into account is the fact that you won’t be able to focus on any one subject for that long. Brains aren’t built that way. You’re better off studying for one exam a couple hours, switching over to something else, then coming back to it. You need the revisiting for it to ‘set’ in your memory. So study in blocks and mix it up. For help with this, take a 20-minute break with our Concentration, Focus & Learning guided imagery.
- Take a lot of nice, deep breaths. Whenever you think of it during this high-demand, stressful time, breathe all the way into your belly to a count of three or five, letting your whole abdomen rise with the in-breath, and then breathe out to the same, slow count. Do this a lot during the final itself. Whenever you start clenching up or feeling panicky, breathe this way. It will never let you down.
- Limit social media or kill it altogether. This is a good time to commit to disconnecting from your usual, social media activity. You may want to temporarily silence your accounts, or maybe just saving it as a reward for working hard. But beware of the seductive, time-sucking nature of those platforms! We all know it’s really hard to spend only 15 minutes there!
So that’s it. Good luck! And remember, this too shall pass, and before you know it, summer will be here, and you can chill with our Relaxation & Wellness imagery!