Health Life + Arts

How to cope with stress during finals

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Many students have felt the pressure of the academic year as it reaches its crescendo with final exams. However, amid the finals frenzy, taking time to unwind is crucial for maintaining a healthy mental well-being while maximizing productivity.

Preventing stress from becoming overwhelming is necessary to ensure success and good health. Long-term stress can lead to immune suppression, loss of productivity, exhaustion and disease development.

“It’s important to prioritize self-care before, during and after finals season,” said assistant director of UH Wellness Brittani Clarkson. “Stress can have negative effects on our health, our relationships and the quality of work we produce.” 

Stress is described as the pressures and demands a person can face in a given situation. It activates the sympathetic nervous system and stimulates the release of stress hormones that can cause various responses like nervousness, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate and overall high states of arousal

Taking time to relax enhances a student’s ability to deal with stressors — deadlines, work, exams — so they aren’t overcome by them, she said. Experts suggest the first step to unwind and de-stress is identifying the source of stress and removing it. 

“It might be easy to lump all stress under one category, but the reality is there are multiple stressors that a student can experience all at once,” Clarkson said. “This is easier said than done, but if students can practice identifying their unaddressed needs or stressors it makes connecting with available campus or community resources that much more effective.”

Take the time to find what is causing the overexertion and fatigue. Ask yourself questions like: is it a certain course, do I have too many commitments or are there other factors? Once the source of stress is identified, talking to classmates or family can be a great way to seek their opinions, reaffirm your fears or get things off your chest.

UH Wellness is available to assist students experiencing stress all year long through their weekly Unwind with Wellness on Wednesday program and relaxation station events. UWWW takes place every week, on Wednesday, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and can include activities such as DIY, pet therapy or massage therapy, Clarkson said. 

In addition, Clarkson said the week before finals begin, UH Wellness hosted a finals edition event that combined all the most popular UWWW events into one big destress extravaganza. 

“We can’t wait to do it again in the spring,” Clarkson said. “There are so many departments on campus hosting events before and during the finals time period. It’s all about finding what interests you most and trying something new.”

Another strategy is to stay present in the moment. It can be easy to slip into a train of thought that fears the future. This could include worrying about upcoming due dates, what grade you’ll make on your final or if you’ll pass your class and maintain your GPA. 

“Staying present is dealing with what is right in front of you and not trying to predict what will happen in the future,” Clarkson said. “Remember that whatever you have or haven’t done to prepare for a final is in the past. Focus on what you have control over in the present and do your best when you show up.”

Furthermore, many self-care habits and hobbies can be a great way to reduce stress and avoid burnout. Self-care can include emotional, practical, physical, mental, social or spiritual. For example, acknowledging your emotions, improving your physical health, enjoying healthy relationships, finding peace in your beliefs or just engaging in positive expression and thinking.

Students shared their unique self-care techniques and ways to wind down this semester. Computer science junior Salma Abbady shared that going outside and getting some fresh air helps her keep her sanity. Research has shown that exposure to natural environments and green spaces can reduce psychological and physical stress. 

“I like to take walks and go on bike rides, alone or with a buddy, in the mornings and around sunsets,” Abbady said. “That way, I’m waking myself up and refreshing before studying.”

Abbady also focuses on maintaining a normal sleep schedule by planning ahead and spreading her study blocks across the next two weeks to avoid all-nighters. 

Similarly, other students have found that physical exercise and movement is a great way to reduce stress. 

“I’ve been making sure I do some type of physical activity every day whether it be going for a bike ride, running or walking,” said psychology junior Alveena Imran. “It helps me unwind by getting rid of some anxious energy and releasing endorphins which make me sane and help me study more effectively.”

Taking care of basic needs and necessities like diet, water intake, dental hygiene, rest and skin care can ensure that stress does not become overwhelming. 

“I’m a breakfast person, so I make sure to eat a balanced breakfast and continue my gym schedule, especially on non-exam days,” Abbady said.

Coping with stress can be very personal and different for each person, Clarkson said. 

“There are plenty of healthy ways for students to relax to cope with stress this finals season,” Clarkson said. “It’s all about finding something you enjoy, something that isn’t complicated and something that won’t cost too much time or money.”

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