Navigating End of Semester Stress

“Ugh, I have so many final exams to study for. I have to pack for winter break too and still maintain taking care of my health”. This is often one of the many thoughts college students experience as the end of the semester approaches. The words “finals week” and “stress” are almost always used in the same sentence during this tough time of the semester. Although there are many stressors among college students such as finances, living on their own and social life, exams have been found to be the #1 stressor.

Stress is our body’s reaction to “harmful” situations whether they are real or perceived. Stress can impact all parts of our life, including emotions, behaviors and physical health. Below are some of the most common symptoms one may experience:

  • Emotional Symptoms: easily agitated, feeling overwhelmed, low self-esteem, isolation
  • Physical symptoms: low energy, frequent headaches, upset stomach, insomnia, jaw pain
  • Cognitive symptoms: constant worrying, racing thoughts, poor judgment
  • Behavioral symptoms: change in appetite, procrastination, increased use of drugs/alcohol, nervous behaviors (nail biting, pacing)

If you are someone who knows that symptoms of stress are inevitable as the end of the semester approaches, you may want to consider using stress management tips in order to decrease stress levels and better cope for what is standing in between you and winter break. Below are 5 strategies that are crucial to consider if you want to have manageable stress levels.

So, I encourage you to explore your surroundings and experiences and to find your “dirt.” Your first option may not be the one you stick with forever, and the effects may not take place immediately. At the Behavioral Wellness Group, we often talk about “neuroplasticity,” or the ability for our brains to make new neural pathways over time. More simply, and just like in baseball, practice helps us to make unsteady skills into more permanent ones. What may not come straightforwardly at first will become easier over time. Hitting your mental reset button can help you to regain your focus when you’re feeling a little distracted or out of control.

  1. Proper sleep and rest
    • Good sleep allows our brains to recharge. Refrain from pulling all-nighters while studying
    • Not sleeping and depriving our bodies of rest, can lower cognitive function, academic performance, and worsen mental health
    • Try to limit excess caffeine, turning down the bright lights and putting away technology at least 1 hour before bed
  2. Be active
    • Regular exercise increases overall health and can reduce overall stress
    • Try to add at least 15 min of physical activity to your daily routine
  3. Have a stress outlet
    • It is important to have a healthy stress outlet in order to calm your mind and decide how to move ahead in a stressful situation
    • Examples: hobby, social club, exercise
  4. Practice self-care
    • Be sure to prioritize regular self-care since stress often causes tension in our bodies such as sore muscles, headaches and weakened immune system
    • Examples: meditating, spending time outside
  5. Manage time effectively
    • It can be difficult to balance social life with academics
    • By developing time management strategies, it is easier to stay organized and better prioritize your most important tasks
    • Managing your time effectively can help improve academic performance, while also decreasing levels of stress and anxiety
    • Examples: prioritize tasks from most essential to complete to least essential to complete, set time limits for yourself and put rewards in place for yourself

If you are struggling with overwhelming stress and/or anxiety as the end of the semester approaches, seek help from your campus counseling center or you can reach out to us at the number/email below. In addition, speaking with friends, family and loved ones who you trust and consider your support system may be helpful.

The Behavioral Wellness Group offers an intensive outpatient program (IOP) designed specifically for college students. The College Mental Wellness IOP is designed for individuals ages 18-25 who are enrolled in higher education or currently taking “time off/gap” due to their mental health. The IOP provides many coping skills and is tailored to college students struggling with mental health and college stressors that may be impacting their everyday lives. Happy Holidays to you from us at BWG!

Madeline McDowell, LPCC
Therapist and College Mental Wellness IOP Director