Students are no strangers to stress. Between classes, activities, and mountains of homework, stress is a daily part of our lives. But shouldn't we be learning to manage this stress instead of just living with it? With finals looming, our stress levels are at an all-time high. Under the weight of grades and expectations, we often forget to take care of ourselves. Luckily, there are some easy things you can do to take care of yourself and survive finals.
When it feels like you're drowning under papers, tests, and study guides, stop and take a deep breath. At this point in our lives, it's easy to think that grades are all that matters. But stop and ask yourself, is this really going to matter in five years? Chances are that the answer is no. You are not defined by your grades. Employers care more about your problem-solving skills than whether or not you can memorize 200 terms for a test. Take your finals seriously, but not too seriously, because there are much more important things in the grand scheme of life.
During finals, sleep is treated more like a luxury than a necessity. However, staying up all night to cram could actually backfire on you, because your brain processes and stores the information you learned during the day while you're asleep. Studies show that for optimal health, you should sleep in 90-minute intervals. This is because your REM cycle (periods of deep sleep) takes about 90 minutes. People that wake up at the end of a REM cycle (during periods of increased brain activity) are more refreshed and alert during the day than those that wake up in the middle of their cycle (the deep sleep stage). If you need to cram, try to get four and a half or six hours of sleep. If you gave yourself a little more time, shoot for seven and a half or nine hours.
To-do lists are your friend during finals. Sometimes the best thing you can do is visualize everything you need to do. Taking a few minutes to schedule out your study time will make it much easier to tackle each task individually. This way, you won't waste time on a paper that's due in a week instead of studying for the exam in two days. Once you've spent the allotted time on one activity, move on to the next. You'll be forced to be more productive with a time limit, and you have the satisfaction of being able to cross things off your list. Time management is the key to survival.
While you're laying out your to-do list, don't forget to pencil in some breaks for yourself! Your brain can only handle so much at one time. On average, the most productive study sessions are about 50 minutes long with 10 minute breaks. When you're done with one subject, change locations to study for the next test. Studies show that changing locations helps your brain differentiate between study material and allows for better recall on tests.
Talk to someone
Between your library corner, the coffee shop, and your bed, it's pretty easy to forget that there's life outside of your textbook. Isolating yourself may be the best way to focus, but it also wears on your mood after a while. Take your next study break and talk to someone! Whether it's a refill run to Starbucks with your friends, FaceTiming your friend at home, or a quick call to your mom, the mere presence of a friendly face has been shown to reduce cortisol levels (a hormone produced by stress).