Tips to succeed during finals mentally, physically and academically

Katarina Rothhorn, Features Editor

The few weeks surrounding finals are typically stereotyped as being a time when students are so stressed they willingly sacrifice their mental health in order to pass their final exams and finish final projects. They pull all-nighters, survive off of coffee and energy drinks and eat processed snacks at their computer. 

While these habits may feel productive at the time and end with some level of success, they come at the sacrifice of mental and physical health that can backfire in the long run. 

According to Neil Baumgartner, Director of Student Success and Wellness, stress is not inherently bad and can be used in a productive way. However, students who are able to recognize and manage their stress in a healthy way are more likely to succeed. 

“I try to give some tips for managing stress and understanding that stress isn’t all bad,” Baumgartner said. “Being able to understand that the stress you’re experiencing can fuel positive performance as well and understanding that that can be kind of a driver or motivator, but you have to be able to manage it.”

According to Baumgartner, students may be feeling increased levels of stress surrounding the final weeks of the semester due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the timing of final exams in between two holiday breaks and decreased daylight hours. 

Students who feel stressed typically under-sleep or over-sleep, both of which have impacts on how your brain functions.

“Sleep is an interesting topic on any college campus, but really consistent sleep is essential for making sure that you have the ability to remember things and to learn,” Baumgartner said. “Your body actually requires sleep to imprint things into your memory and into your brain and to improve cognitive functioning. So if you’re not sleeping, all of this work that you’re putting in to try and cram for and prepare for the exams actually isn’t coming into your brain in the same way that it could be.”

For Trisha Schultz, fourth-year environmental studies and sustainability major, not getting enough sleep ties into her mental health and overall well-being.

“I think prioritizing mental health is important every single week of the year, but especially finals week, because if your mental health is not in check, you probably won’t be eating as much, you probably will not be sleeping,” Schultz said. “And if you’re not eating well, if you’re not getting some form of exercise, if you’re not sleeping, you’re more than likely to perform low on those finals.”

This focus on wellness and all-encompassing health is something Baumgartner tries to emphasize in the One Minute Wellness messages he sends out to students throughout this semester. On Nov. 30, he sent out tips for success on finals such as keeping a balanced schedule, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, moving your body and practicing calming techniques. 

One of his recommended calming techniques that he uses in his own life is deep breathing. When he finds he is stressed or needs to recenter himself before moving on to the next task, he sets a timer for one minute and takes deep breaths. 

“Those deep breaths can be so powerful because it takes a minute,” Baumgartner said. “You can really focus in one minute to take some deep breaths to breathe in and breathe out and really find that sense of calm and if you do that, you can literally feel your body relax as you do. We all have one spare minute.”

Deep breathing and meditation is a technique that Schultz found works for her as well.

“I do a lot of yoga and meditation. Those coping mechanisms really help me just ground myself and realize that this is only just a week, and I have to meet these deadlines,” Schultz said. “I have to get it done, and through meditation and breathwork, I’m able to just realize that it’s insignificant.”

Mediation does not work for everyone, but there is a solution for handling stress that will fit each person’s needs. For Josie Hodges, third-year public relations major, keeping an organized schedule and starting projects ahead of time helps her manage her stress levels from becoming unbearable. 

“As a former procrastinator, I know how stressful [finals] can be. I try to handle my stress by staying on top of my schedule and sticking to a routine,” Hodges said. “This creates a solid foundation for when new challenges are thrown my way.”

Dalton Gray, second-year environmental science major, has a similar method for approaching finals week and tries to break bigger projects into smaller segments throughout the week.

“I would suggest to start studying as early as possible and to study in short increments a few times a day,” Gray said. “When it’s time for exams, take a break from studying, go to bed early and get a good breakfast because that has made a huge improvement to my stress levels during exams.”

Whatever method works for you, make sure you are focusing on your mental and physical health, not just your academic success. By taking care of yourself, you are also preparing your brain to perform better when it actually comes to your exams. 

“Mental health is so important these past few weeks because most of us are facing more pressure than we have ever been used to … If you focus on your mental health and are able to go into an exam with a good mindset, I believe you are able to do better than if you spent the entire night before studying and are going in with only an hour or two of sleep,” Gray said. “This will help to lower stress after exams by hopefully improving your scores and letting you go into break with a happy mind.”