Finals can be stressful, but approaching them in a slightly different way could save your mental health. (Illustration by Ben Miller, Towson University)

As finals week approaches, it’s easy for college students to become extremely overwhelmed with the amount of studying that must be completed for all our classes in just one miserable week.

While the craze is inevitable, there are still some things you can do to ensure that while you’re studying your butt off, you’re not kicking your mental health to the curb. Remember students: your grades are important, but so is your physical well-being! So, here are a few tips on how to end the semester strong, and keep your mental health intact too.

1. Get At Least 6 Hours of Sleep Per Night

I know, I know. Every time someone like a professor or a parent tells you to “make sure you get a good night’s sleep,” you want to roll your eyes into the back of your head and tell them they don’t understand. Trust me, I’ve been there and have tossed this rule aside a number of times to pull an all-nighter.

While the “sleep is for the weak” motto can be tempting, avoid those all-nighters at all costs. Lack of sleep is not only terrible for your physical and mental health, but your ability to retain information will significantly decrease; as you become sleepier, your mind becomes weaker, unable to concentrate and actually store any of the information you’re trying to cram in there. However, since finals week can be hectic and demanding, you can’t expect to be able to fit a full eight hours in there every night either. But never fear, there is a compromise.

Research shows that interrupting your sleeping cycles (known as NREM and REM cycles) can cause you to wake up delirious, grouchy and even more exhausted than you were when you went to sleep. This makes waking up early to do schoolwork and study counterintuitive, as you are not in the proper state to retain information.

Instead, as our sleeping cycles range from 90-120 minutes, getting at least six hours of sleep not only avoids interrupting your sleeping cycles, but will actually have you waking up feeling refreshed. This same article reports that mid-day naps can also be beneficial to you, as long as they don’t exceed 30-60 minutes. So, get your sleep in, and every minute you spend studying, you will actually be able to absorb the content for those big exams.

2. Organize Your Gargantuan To-Do List in Smaller Clusters

The average full-time college student is enrolled in at least five classes a semester, meaning that during finals week at the end of the semester, they have five different exams to study for, some of which fall on the same day. Making a to-do list of all the assignments you need to get done, exams you need to study for and tasks you need to complete can quickly pile up and overwhelm any student.

It’s important to remember that stress is a normal reaction; anyone would become anxious at the sight of a sprawling list of tasks that only have a short amount of time to be done, but the worst thing a student can do to themselves is expect to tackle it all at once. Instead, organize your items into clusters, from the small assignments to the more time-consuming ones. Then, prioritize what is due first, and what will take the least amount of time.

mental health
Don’t let that scroll of a to-do list psych you out; a little planning goes a long way. (Image via The Tartan)

As a senior in college I have found that this is the most effective way to get stuff done during exam week without becoming overly anxious. If you cluster your tasks into smaller groups, they become less overwhelming and easier to imagine completing, making you more motivated to get working.

Then, start one at a time, focusing first on the smaller tasks that take the least amount of time. Not only do completing these get the smaller worries out of the way, but they boost your confidence and drive to complete your more time-consuming and difficult tasks. With your small assignments out of the way, you can focus all of your mental energy on completing the assignments that need the most attention.

Then, with this cluster of larger assignments, list them out chronologically by due date. While this may seem obvious, having a huge list of tasks to complete, all equally as important, can make it tempting to bounce around and do a little of each as you go.

However, this is not the best idea in the long run; by focusing on one assignment at a time, you can zero in on that one topic and not be distracted by an overload of information for multiple tasks. Completing each task one by one will not only condense your list, but will produce higher quality work in the end.

3. Exercise Each Day, Even If It’s Just for 20 Minutes

An article published by the Mayo Clinic reports that exercising is not only good for you physically, but mentally. Their studies find that exercising causes your brain to produce and release endorphins, which are also known as the “happy hormones.”

Even if you’re not a fan of working out, if you find yourself getting anxious, depressed, overly stressed or just mentally exhausted, give yourself a break and go on a quick run. This does not mean you have to go run a 5K or complete an American Ninja Warrior obstacle course; a short 20-minute run will prompt your brain to release that happy hormone and reduce your stress.

This is also, as Mayo states, “meditation in motion.” The reason we tend to forget our troubles when engaged in physical activity is because our brain is focused on controlling our body movements. This allows for our minds to naturally clear themselves and relieve some of that built-up tension that staring at flashcards or your computer screen can produce. So, if you have a lot on your plate during finals week, find the time to carve out just a little bit of time in your day to do a form of exercise to improve your mental health.

4. Isolate a Small Portion of Your Day to Doing Something You Enjoy

Again, I understand that it’s tempting to go into robot mode and tell yourself that you don’t get to have a good time until all of your work is done, your exams are turned in and the semester is officially over.

However, you are, in fact, human. Even during exam week, everyone deserves to spend at least a few minutes out of their day doing something they enjoy. Just like exercise, doing something that brings you happiness will help to remind you of how awesome you are, and that exam week is not the end of the world.

For me, this means spending at least 30 minutes at the end of my day putting my school work aside, making a cup of peppermint tea and reading a book of my choosing simply for pleasure. Remind yourself that being a college student is one of the hardest things you’ll do in life, and you’re only human. Treat yo’self.

5. PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY

This is the most important one people; I cannot stress this enough. Your phone is chock-full of distractions like social media, text messages and games that threaten to deter you from your studies and waste your time by being unproductive.

MIT Technology Review found that “the average American spends 24 hours a week online.” That means that over the course of exam week, you will most likely spend close to an entire day playing on your phone or checking your social media, even if it only feels like you pick it up for a few minutes here and there.

Sit back and think for a moment of all the studying and schoolwork you could accomplish during that time, even if it was cut in half. Ask yourself what tasks are on your to-do list that would take less than 12 hours to complete? Mhm, exactly.

It’s not anyone’s fault for being distracted by their phone, but you can eliminate the distraction altogether by simply putting your phone on Do Not Disturb and placing it on the other side of the room or by simply removing it from the room altogether. Within a few minutes, you will become focused on what you’re doing, and won’t be threatened by your phone lighting up or the temptation of a quick Instagram check. Just eliminate the distraction factor altogether and keep your phone away from your work area until you are done studying. Trust me, you’ll be thankful you did it.

Every student is tackling a different course load and finals week schedule, and there is no cookie-cutter advice to be given that will make finals week a breeze. It’s a tough time, but an accumulation of tiny tips and tricks can make the whole process run a lot more smoothly and keep you from becoming overwhelmed with stress.

Remember that you are only human, and above all, your mental health and well-being are more important than any one test. Treat yourself to a quick run, a nice read or a pint of ice-cream throughout the week and end this semester with a bang. You’ve got this.

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