The Perils of Finals

By Crystal Lapidus-Mann, Staff Counselor, and Catherine Champagne, Coordinator of Alcohol, Drug, and Health Education

As final exams loom ever-closer, our thoughts go to our students. Over the next week, we know that students will spend many hours focused on studying, writing, and working tirelessly on final projects. Although these practices are necessary for academic success, the accomplishment of these tasks sometimes happens at the expense of students’ personal health and wellness (“all-nighters,” anyone?).

As staff members of Denison’s Whisler Center for Student Wellness, we have witnessed first-hand the effects of stress on our students. Staff counselors in particular have the honor of being welcomed into our students’ private lives, and are privy to the healthy, and (sometimes) unhealthy ways, in which our students cope with the challenges of college life. As students approach, and then plunge, into final exam week, we know Whisler will see many students encountering physical and emotional distress.

So, what can you do? There’s no magic solution, but you don’t have to brace yourself for inevitable, uncontrollable stress. Simple self-care practices for maintaining personal wellness will help enormously. When you take care of your whole self, you can put your best self forward and have a better chance of accomplishing the things you want to. Love it, like it, or battle it, the body we have is the one and only vehicle we get to move us through life. It is difficult to function when you aren’t getting enough sleep, are feeling anxious, or haven’t eaten well that day. Although it can feel counter-productive to take time from studying to restore one’s self during this busy time of year, even brief moments of self-care can greatly enhance performance.

This finals week, we encourage students to embrace the adage, “Be well, to do well.” Consider these tips as you prepare for finals:

1. Nourish your body and your brain
What you eat matters. Eat a protein-rich breakfast and space small meals throughout the day to sustain energy and stay nourished. While studying, keep healthy snacks nearby, like granola bars, yogurt, fruit, or unsalted popcorn. Finally, hydration is critical, but don’t rely on coffees or caffeine sodas, as too many can make you dehydrated and feel jittery. Water is your best option to stay hydrated.

2. Get some zzzz’s
Although it is tempting to sacrifice sleep when you have a lot to do, this can negatively impact your performance. Quality sleep is necessary for a well-functioning brain– something you definitely need during finals week! Research suggests that sleep improves memory and sharpens attention, improving overall academic performance. Our best advice is to stick to a regular sleep schedule if possible.If a late night becomes unavoidable, try taking a short 20-30 minute nap the next day to boost alertness (longer naps can end up making you feel groggy).

3. Take a break.
Yes – a break! While some students can stay focused for several hours at a time, most cannot. Trying to plow through a 6-hour study session without interruption can actually be counter-productive. As you study, find natural opportunities to pause and restore yourself. Get up and stretch, take a 10 minute walk, call a friend or family member. You’ll come back to your work re-energized.

4. Remember to breathe!
When you’re feeling stressed, you can feel it throughout your body. Your heart pounds, blood pressure increases, and your breathing becomes fast and shallow. To curb these “in the moment” feelings of stress, take a few minutes to focus on breathing deeply. A short breathing exercise can be simple and effective. Try this: (1) Find a comfortable seat and sit up straight, (2) Put one hand on your belly, and your other hand on your chest, (3) Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of three. The hand on your belly should move as you breathe in deeply, while the hand on your chest should not move. (4) Slowly exhale, making a whooshing sound with your mouth. Repeat this exercise until you feel yourself relax.

Self-care prevents mental, emotional and physical burn-out. We hope you find these tips helpful, and are able to try a few this finals week. Remember, Health and Counseling Services at The Whisler Center for Student Wellness are here if you need support during this next week and throughout the year. We wish you the best of luck as the semester comes to a close!

Catherine Champagne