With looming finals, big papers, and the holidays right around the corner, the end of the semester can be one of the most stressful times of the school year. But don’t start the nail-biting just yet! We talked to collegiettes around the country and Dr. Patrick McGrath, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety and stress management, to give you tips on how to stay calm, confront your anxieties and have a successful year-end. So, take a deep breath, put down your study materials (just for a little bit!) and read on.
1. Repeat this to yourself: It WILL pass
Sure, you could take a long bubble bath. But according to Dr. McGrath, long-term solutions to stress management involve accepting and dealing with your anxieties. “The best thing to do is to stay in a stressful situation until the stress passes. It will pass – you just have to allow yourself enough time to learn and believe that,” he says. So when you’re in panic mode about the organic chemistry final, remind yourself that this situation will absolutely end and then it will be over and done with. Fighting the stress could actually increase it, exacerbating your panic. Accepting the situation and working through it calmly is the best thing you can do, says Dr. McGrath. So don’t procrastinate. Pick up the textbook, do the work and it’ll be over before you know it.
2. Get in the zone
Just ask professional athletes and performers: some stress is good! Stress can up your game, keep you focused and propel you to work efficiently and smartly. “People fear anxiety and it can actually be a very helpful emotion, if it is experienced in such a way as to not interfere with your life but to enhance it. In sports they call this ‘in the zone,’” says Dr. McGrath. “Performers on stage are not without anxiety – they just have just enough to motivate them or to put an edge on their performance and to drive them to be better.” So what’s a collegiette to do? Use stress to your advantage, like Kate, a collegiette at Wellesley College, does. “Stress motivates me to study. If there isn’t pressure, it’s sometimes hard to give attention to things you would like to learn about. I may want to become better at art history, but I might not have the personal drive to learn it. It’s good to have something chasing at your heels because then you’re actually going somewhere,” she says. Get excited about your projects, and channel your stress into focus and drive—you might forget it’s actually work anyway. Need to memorize some tricky Spanish vocab words? Make up funny sentences with them. Have an essay due about ancient Greece? Talk to your friends about it. Give them trivia. By applying the information to your own life, you’ll not only know it better, it’ll also become (dare we say it) fun.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare
“If you know that you have a stressful situation coming up, prepare for it, role play it with friends, practice what you are going to say, but also accept the fact that no matter how much you prepare there will probably be something that will happen that you will just have to react to and go with it,” says Dr. McGrath. Don’t let stress creep up on you. Have a scary paper coming up? Make a list of exactly what you need to do (go to library to get sources, meet up with prof at office hours, etc.) and go through the motions. Nervous about your financial situation this holiday season? Make a budget and be realistic about what you can and can’t afford. Worried about that French oral presentation? Run through it with a roommate. Read your essays out loud before handing them in—it’ll help the editing process. When you’re stressed, it’s tempting to just freak out and avoid thinking about our anxieties (hello, procrastination!). But by confronting the situation, you’re teaching yourself that you CAN work your way through it. Stressful situations are always going to happen, but being prepared is something you can absolutely control.
4. Sleep and eat right
We know, we know. It’s been drilled into your head time and time again, but it’s worth reiteration. Getting at least eight hours of sleep and eating healthily is one of the best things you can do in the midst of stressful end-of-term projects and holidays. Forgo the urge to load up on caffeine and pull all-nighters. Chances are, you’ll crash and burn, which will exacerbate your anxiety. Stick to a solid sleep schedule (try to stop all of your work around midnight) and refuel with healthy snacks like hummus and veggies, or nuts and yogurt. For University of Virginia collegiette Emily, exercise is another healthy habit that helps her focus. “Running gives you time to think but it also gets your blood pumping and gets a flow of endorphins going. It keeps me sane during stressful periods,” she says. So throw away the Red Bull and candy. Sleeping, eating well, and exercising will keep you calm and healthy. Your body will thank you.
5. Pace yourself
Staring at a computer screen in the stacks of your college library for five hours will do you no good. Cramming is ineffective. If exams and papers are the cause of your stress, do a little bit each day. “As hard as it sounds, the best advice really is to try and do a little each day. I generally try to read through my entire notebook before exams so I have an idea where my problem areas are. Pacing helps keep it interesting, not stressful,” Kate says. The same advice goes for planning a family holiday dinner. No need to cook, decorate and plan all in one day. Spacing out your planning will not only bring out your best work, but will also keep you sane in the process.
6. Indulge a little
Make stressful activities more fun by combining work and play. Study somewhere you don’t normally go, like that new coffee shop. Paint your nails a bright shade while reading a textbook. By keeping the ball rolling, it’s easier to work through material than constantly starting and stopping. Take breaks, and use them wisely. Kenyon College collegiette Emma takes breaks often, which helps alleviate some of her stress. “I'm a big believer in breaks. Study for a while and then give yourself a much-needed rest—watch a funny show online, indulge in a snack. I also think being social and connected helps. I make time to Skype with family and friends from home when I'm most stressed out,” she says. So, take a break without feeling guilty. Set aside 15 minutes for every hour you study or work to recharge. Give yourself a facial, make a fruit smoothie or text your crush for a little. Then, back to work! Or grab a study buddy to help go through difficult problem sets with you. By making working as fun as possible, the time at your work won’t seem quite as grueling. Or, just try being alone. Hanging out with a friend can be a great break, but talking a walk around campus, doing yoga or even just taking a shower can be great escapes from hectic college life.
So, bring out the books and get to work! Take breaks, get plenty of rest, and relax. Whether it’s a looming final or a long paper, recognize that you’ll get through it (calmly!) if you take a deep breath and get it done. The semester will be over before you know it!