By Katrina Schmidt
As finals approach and the semester comes to an end, school can become very stressful for college students struggling to balance finishing final projects, studying for exams and keeping up with work or extracurricular activities.
According to a 2014 study by the Pennsylvania State University, the third most prevalent mental health concern for college students is stress.
Stress is pervasive, and its effects are numerous. Muscle tension, long-term heart problems, difficulty breathing, heartburn or nausea are just some of the potential health effects of stress according to the American Psychological Association.
For college students experiencing stress during this time of the year, even if it’s temporary, it is imperative to learn ways to manage your stress.
Many students turn to junk food or all-nighters in an attempt to deal with their stress and complete their work. But, according to Dr. Rashanta Bledman, staff psychologist at the University of Maryland Counseling Center, this is typically ineffective.
“Sometimes when you’re up late or you’re super stressed and don’t have time, you just go for whatever in terms of eating,” she said. “Preparing ahead of time is the best way to do things.”
Dr. Bledman recommends students have healthy snacks readily available to them in their rooms, like granola bars or fruit.
This is feasible even for students on a dining plan. Dining Services allows students to take out handheld pieces of fruit. By bringing one piece of fruit with you per meal, you’ll soon have plenty to tide you over during energy-draining study sessions.
“In the moment, Nacho Cheese Doritos feel the best,” Dr. Bledman said. “But, it’s not going to give you the energy that an apple will.”
As for all those ubiquitous all-nighters — preparing ahead is your best bet.
Most adults need between six-10 hours of sleep per night, but most college students get six-6.9 hours of sleep per night.
“The accumulation of that can be really detrimental,” Dr. Bledman explained.
During finals, the simplest way to avoid all-nighters is to begin studying a few weeks in advance. Although this can be difficult with other responsibilities, simply creating a study plan well in advance can do wonders to avoid cramming.
The Learning Assistance Service (LAS) through the Counseling Center, which helps students learn how to build “personal and academic strategies and behaviors which empower them to be successful in college and life,” provides many resources for students attempting to manage stress both during finals and the semester.
Dr. Bledman highly recommends the LAS for students who need help learning how to manage their time.
The LAS website has a helpful handout with tips for students preparing for finals. Recommendations include studying in 50-minute blocks, limiting distractions like social media, saying no to other things when necessary and avoiding stressful people.
In particular, saying no can be difficult for students attempting to balance their social life and studying in the days leading up to finals.
“I think sometimes there are ways to combine those,” Dr. Bledman said.
Study groups can be a good way to combine staying in touch with your social life and academics, so long as students are studying with people who they know will be productive during the time.
Dr. Bledman also recommends students get in the habit of creating a study schedule. It can be very rewarding for students to know they studied for a few hours, and then can go see a friend.
“Having that social support, I think, is a really big piece of being a student,” she said.
Rewarding yourself is an important stress management tool. Even just little practices, like taking a stretch break between studying or taking a few minutes to color in a coloring book,can be beneficial to students.
However, keeping in mind that sometimes you will be stressed can be important, as well.
“I also think inevitably there’s going to be all-nighters, or times where you don’t eat as well,” Dr. Bledman said. “And so I think it’s just important for students to be patient and compassionate with themselves.”
Recognizing that perhaps you won’t be your absolute best self during finals can be important. Getting stressed over being stressed won’t do any good.
By preparing ahead, finding little ways to practice self care and being kind to yourself, students can have a successful finals season.
Katrina Schmidt is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.