The pressure of finals is not easy to handle. There isn’t a single one of us that doesn’t fear not performing our best, regardless of preparation. We all have our stress combatants, some healthier than others, but the most effective way to deal with and reduce stress is to know our body’s reaction to stress and how to cope.
Stress is supposed to be a reaction to a life or death situation. During periods of stress our bodies heighten functions that are pivotal to survival and weaken functions that are not. Blood vessels constrict to prevent blood loss in case of injury, pupils dilate to strengthen our vision, and blood sugar heightens to speed up our reaction time. Conversely, the digestive system slows down, growth hormones are dormant and the immune system is at its weakest because it is not essential to our short-term survival. In our natural state stress is a good response. Our bodies are not fit to handle long periods of stress.
Stress is psychological and physiological. It is triggered by events that upset our normal, personal balance. Our bodies see these events as threats and when we sense threats all of our senses are on alert. This response is called “fight or flight,” and prepares us for emergency action. A part of the brain called the hypothalamus sets off an alarm. Unusually large amounts of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol, all stress hormones, are released into the bloodstream. Large muscles experience an increase in blood flow and heart rate so that we can either fight harder (fight) or run faster (flight).
Stress symptoms can be divided into four different categories: cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioral. Cognitive symptoms include inability to concentrate, memory problems, and poor judgment. Emotional symptoms include restlessness, feeling overwhelmed, and depression. Physical symptoms include colds, insomnia, and weight gain or loss. Finally, behavioral symptoms include isolation, use of alcohol, and use of drugs. Clearly, we want to avoid these symptoms. How?
We need to have the proper diet. Besides alcohol and drugs, the worst thing to do during stressful periods is eat poorly. What we eat affects how we feel and think. There is a direct correlation between foods high in saturated fats, sugar and cholesterol and an inability to concentrate. High consumption of alcohol and caffeine combined with a low intake of juice, water and milk also contribute to concentration problems. Eating poorly and irregularly builds stress. So not only do you want to eat lots of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, soups, yogurts, and skim milk, but you also want to do so on a steady schedule. Adding regularity to your days in almost any form will cut stress. Eat a heavy morning meal, a light dinner, and greens and fruits throughout the day with lots and lots of fluids. I know, I know, it’s hard to eat like that, but it’s only for a week or so.
Be organized. Nothing is more stressful than not knowing where to begin. This sounds easier said than done, but minor planning can save hours of confusion. Make a to-do list and put it in the order of completion. This can seriously take five minutes. I made mine while walking to class; everything I need to get done before the end of the semester. For me, the most efficient way is to knock out the easier stuff first like personal responses, short worksheets, finishing up readings, etc. This allows you to fully focus on the make or break assignments like research papers, projects, and reviewing for the main exams. If you know the road, it’s easier to travel.
Music helps to relieve stress because it increases the body’s serotonin levels, which are associated with good feelings. It relaxes us by enhancing deep breathing. Background music increases body temperature and slows the heart rate. So play your favorite mixtape in the background while you study and your concentration and relaxation will improve.
If you exercise for 30 minutes, 4 days a week, your body releases calming chemicals like endorphins. Exercise decreases the chance of getting sick, and speeds recovery time if we do get sick. It also helps our minds by deferring attention from the stress causer to our exercise.
These tips won’t guarantee straight A’s, but they will get your through finals without a nervous breakdown. Best of luck.
Nicholas Mukhar is a senior media studies major and a journalism and legal studies minor.