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11 Tips for Otis College Students Managing the Stress of Finals Week

When your stress level increases, so should your level and practice of self-care.
James Birks, LMFT

<p><em>James Birks is the Director of Student Counseling Services at the <a href="">Student Health and Wellness Center</a> at Otis College.&nbsp;</em></p>

<p>Since Finals Week is one of the most stressful times of the semester, it&rsquo;s important for students to have a good self-care routine in place. Some of the ways the stress might manifest within our bodies, minds, emotions, and behaviors include headaches, fatigue, getting sick, muscle tension, worrying, impaired judgment, negativity, loss of confidence, irritability, depression, loss of appetite, restlessness, insomnia, and increased substance use. In order to protect ourselves against, or mitigate, some of the symptoms of stress, we have to practice good self-care.&nbsp;</p>

<p>Here are 11 tips for how to manage the effects of stress during Finals Week:&nbsp;</p>

<p><strong>Tip 1: Get Enough Sleep</strong></p>

<p>It is important to get enough sleep and avoid all nighters. While 8-plus hours of sleep a night is ideal, if you are averaging at least 7 you&rsquo;re not doing too badly! If you&rsquo;re having trouble falling asleep, it is helpful to remember that our bodies work well with routine. Having a sleep regime that you practice every night can help prime your body for rest. Suggestions include taking a warm shower, drinking non-caffeinated, herbal tea (chamomile works well), reading, stretching, or meditating. Also try having an established bedtime hour that you stick to consistently.</p>

<p><strong>Tip 2: No Screens Before Bed</strong></p>

<p>Research has shown that blue light from electronics, such as your cell phone, TV, or computer, sends signals that tell the brain it is still daytime, which can make it harder for the body to fall asleep.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

<p><strong>Tip 3: Get Up</strong></p>

<p>If you find that you wake up in the middle of the night and can&rsquo;t fall back asleep, or you are laying in bed staring at the clock for longer than 30 minutes, get up. It is more beneficial to get up and go to another room, if possible, and do something relaxing, like read a book, listen to soft music, or meditate. When you begin to feel tired, go back to bed.&nbsp;</p>

<p><strong>Tip 4: Write It Down</strong></p>

<p>Contrary to common belief, our brains don&rsquo;t actually rest when we sleep. They are still active and controlling some very important bodily functions. If your brain is overly active with racing or intense thoughts, it can keep you from falling asleep. If this happens to you, try setting your thoughts at ease before bed. I suggest distracting yourself with your nighttime routine, meditation, or other relaxing activity. Use a journal to write your thoughts down on paper, or create a list of the different tasks and to-do&rsquo;s that are keeping your brain going. Tell yourself you have safely written them down and can return to them tomorrow.&nbsp;</p>

<p><strong>Tip 5: Eat Enough Food</strong></p>

<p>Increased stress and anxiety can often lead to a decrease in appetite, but it is helpful to think of food and sleep as fuel for the body&mdash;if you run out of either you will eventually shut down. You also have to remember to put the <em>right</em> fuel in your body. Eating healthy foods will boost your energy and help your body feel good. Eating junk food will decrease your energy and make you feel sluggish or tired. Too much sugar can cause irregular fluctuations of energy that eventually will lead to a crash&mdash;not helpful while studying for finals.</p>

<p><strong>Tip 6: Don&rsquo;t Get Stuck</strong></p>

<p>Procrastination and lack of motivation are common complaints around finals. Oftentimes, we re-label these symptoms as &ldquo;avoidance behaviors.&rdquo; I tell students that one of the main symptoms of anxiety is avoidance&mdash;meaning we often avoid the things that make us feel anxious. So the next time you are feeling stuck, check in with yourself and see if that assignment you are not motivated to work on, or the final you are procrastinating on studying for, is not also making you feel some anxiety.</p>

<p><strong>Tip 7: Get Back to Work</strong></p>

<p>When we stop avoiding anxious or negative feelings we often find we can get back to work much quicker. If you&rsquo;re having trouble starting that paper or drawing assignment, start with the worst possible version of it and get out all of your mistakes. Starting with the &ldquo;bad&rdquo; version can take some of the pressure off and allow you to get started by pushing past that initial block. You might even find that the &ldquo;bad&rdquo; version was not so bad, or that it sparked some new ideas.</p>

<p><strong>Tip 8: Take a Break</strong></p>

<p>Taking quick breaks can help you reset and refocus after you have hit a wall. Get up and get your blood flowing, stretch, go for a walk, grab a snack, and come back with some renewed energy and fresh eyes.&nbsp;</p>

<p><strong>Tip 9: Find the Right Work Space&nbsp;</strong></p>

<p>Finding a good work environment that meets your needs can be crucial. For some, this might be a clean, quiet space with no distractions. Others might prefer a more public option, such as a lounge or café. Find what works well for you, but don&rsquo;t be afraid to switch it up. Changing your work environment can also be helpful when you hit a wall or find yourself stuck in procrastination. Although our room or home might be the most comfortable place to work, it might also be the worst. If you constantly find yourself distracted by the fridge, or your bed, this can be a sign that you need a change of scenery.</p>

<p><strong>Tip 10: Get an Accountability Partner</strong></p>

<p>If you are not distracted by working in groups, find a friend or study group to work with and help keep you accountable.</p>

<p><strong>Tip 11: Plan Ahead</strong></p>

<p>Writing out a study schedule with dates, times, and deadlines for studying and completing assignments&mdash;with extra space for when &ldquo;life happens&rdquo;&mdash;is a great tip to get you through the week. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.</p>

<p>Photo by&nbsp;David Mao&nbsp;on&nbsp;Unsplash.&nbsp;</p>