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Self-doubt could cost you your finals grade

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

With Thanksgiving behind us, many students are now finding themselves left with nothing but the looming threat of finals between them and the end of the semester. This, combined with holiday-related stress, can make for a tense time.

Yet managing said stress is often the deciding factor when it comes to academic success. A study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry linked self-doubt and stress to poor academic performance and more severe outcomes such as anxiety and depression. 

Bill Elder is a professor and chair of the behavioral and social sciences department at the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine. Elder said that a big part of overcoming stress is maintaining a positive outlook and minimizing self-doubt. 

“So many of us spend time second-guessing ourselves. We put ourselves down constantly for not being prepared or not studying enough,” Elder said. “In reality, the more competence you allow yourself, the better you will generally tend to do.” 

While some students might think of self-criticism as an effective tool for motivation, research has shown that it can have the opposite effect. One study found that excessive self-doubt can lead individuals to pursue goals on the basis of avoiding failure rather than personal enrichment. 

“Being positive about yourself can only really help during times of stress,” Elder said. I think if you visualize yourself being successful, presenting that class presentation, submitting that final project or sitting down and taking that test, that will reduce your stress and result in a better outcome.”

College can be difficult, however; while practicing positivity can help in a battle against stress, it won’t win the war. To do that, the best place to start is by making a list, Elder said. 

“Write down everything that needs to get done between now and the last day of the year. Write it down and then break it down into a series of tasks,” Elder said. “Just doing that one step alone can greatly reduce stress.”

Elder said this process helps restore one’s sense of control over their future and can ultimately be a stepping-stone to greater self-confidence. 

Though many students can be found on campus or social media in various states of academic distress, some see it as a learning opportunity. Developing techniques to manage pressure effectively is an important part of the college experience, said journalism junior Darian Ellis. 

“I think stress is a normal part of college,” Ellis said.  “College is preparing us for our professional careers in which we will experience stress. The major lesson we all need to learn is how to manage that stress individually.”

For Ellis, it’s all about maintaining balance through structure and discipline. That, combined with healthy habits and a touch of self-care, is her approach to a successful finals season.

“I have a very strict midnight sleep curfew. Pulling all-nighters isn’t beneficial to me because it doesn’t make me feel very productive the next day,” Ellis said. “I also have made Sunday my self-care day. I only do activities that make me feel relaxed or are fun.”

Even with rigorous scheduling and meticulous sleep schedules, fall semester finals can be especially challenging for students. With the holiday season on the horizon, the added burden of familial obligations and winter festivities can be difficult to shoulder.

In times like these, Elder said, it’s important to reach out to your family and friends for support.

“Call your friends and family, call the ones that you know are supportive of you and just talk to them,” Elder said. “Ask them to point out a couple of strengths they know you have. They are there to help you.”

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