finals
Conquering finals is the dream of every college student. (Illustration by Ashawna Linyard, Georgia State University)

7 Healthy Tips to Help You Survive and Thrive in Finals Season

Just because exams are looming doesn’t mean you have to survive on library-brewed cappuccinos.

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Just because exams are looming doesn’t mean you have to survive on library-brewed cappuccinos.

It’s mid-December and college students everywhere are frantically cramming and pulling all-nighters in the midst of finals. Like many generations of students before us, term papers, projects and exams are taking precedence over our physical and mental well-being. Even though the road between you and your winter break may seem daunting, there are some strategies you can adopt to try and make finals season a little less painful.

1. Get some sleep.

By now in your academic career, you have probably resorted to a late-night cramming session at least once. However, studies have found that not only does this method of last-minute studying not work, but it also leads students to sacrifice vital hours of sleep in favor of staying up all night. In a 2018 study conducted by Baylor University, researchers incentivized students with bonus points on their final exams if they averaged eight hours of sleep for the five nights leading up to finals. Their findings showed that students who completed the challenge did better on their finals than other students. Oftentimes, students feel that they don’t have a choice when it comes to balancing work and sleep. This group’s research succeeds in showing that if you are debating between going to bed and staying up a few more hours, it just might be worth it to catch some extra Z’s.

2. Don’t over-caffeinate.

The National Sleep Foundation labels caffeine as the “most popular drug in the world.” Of course, this point is related to the sleep issue where people overcompensate for their lack of rest with caffeine. College campuses are breeding grounds for unhealthy study habits and what some students call “Stress Olympics.” This culture is a major testament to this claim, with library vending machines stocked with energy drinks and espresso brewing stations. Even though it seems like the slight boost in energy is keeping you alert and awake, over-caffeination can have some negative side effects including anxiety, irritability and trouble sleeping. All these symptoms can just make it harder to do well and concentrate on your work. So, just like anything else, remember to consume in moderation.

3. Hydrate!

Drinking lots of water should always be a priority, but it’s easy to forget when finals are looming in the back of your mind. Over 60% of the human body is made up of water, so it is only natural that drinking enough fluids is vital to your health. Being well-hydrated keeps your body cool, promotes cardiovascular health, cleanses your body and just generally makes you feel better. When your body is happy, you are happy. Plus, this is one of the simplest ways to keep your health in check during stressful times like finals.

4. Avoid junk food.

Days and nights spent in the library often cause students to skip meals or resort to whatever the vending machines have to offer. Unfortunately, Doritos and a Monster energy drink does not constitute breakfast, lunch or dinner. Just like the previous point on hydration, attempting to eat healthy during finals can have major benefits going into your exams. Not only will a healthy, well-rounded diet allow you to take some much-needed study breaks, but it will also give you a boost of energy to finish out your semester strong.

5. Take a break.

When attempting marathon-like study sessions, it’s important to take breaks every now and then. Try setting a timer at one or two hour intervals. When your timer goes off, take a 10 to 15-minute break. Listen to music, read the news, watch a YouTube video — just relax. If you’re looking for a study break that’s a little less solitary, college campuses are growing increasingly aware of the potential for toxic study habits during finals season. As a result, many schools offer finals-specific destress activities throughout the week. For example, at Davidson College the student activities council sponsors a semiannual Puppy Day where professors and townies bring their dogs. Not only is it a fun way for the greater community to interact with the college, but it is also a nice hourlong break from studying. If you’re looking for a shorter break, try out meditation. YouTuber Lauren Ostrowshi Fenton offers a variety of meditative content on her channel, including this 2-minute meditation specifically for students.

6. Reach out to your school’s counseling center.

Finals is one of the main pressure points of the academic year for students. A combination of classes and going home for the holidays makes this time of year particularly stressful. However, it is important to remember that college campuses are eager to help students work through the heaviness that can come with the end of the semester. Most college and universities offer a number of free counseling appointments on campus. Or, if your school’s counseling department is booked, seek out a friend. Odds are that even if you feel alone in your worries about school, friends can likely relate to your situation. Everyone goes through rough patches, so don’t hesitate to seek out help if your finals seem unbearable.

7. Don’t do it alone.

Studying can oftentimes feel like something that requires absolute isolation. Whether it’s locking yourself in your room or finding the most remote corner of the library, everyone has their designated study spot that screams, “Leave me alone!” But that doesn’t always have to be the case, especially when finals are really getting you down. Of course, when selecting a study buddy, don’t choose the chatterbox of your friend group, but instead someone you know will respect your need for a productive atmosphere. Working with a friend can be a nice change of pace during finals season when everything feels monotonous.

While we can all admit that finals are stressful, there is no reason to make them even worse by maintaining unhealthy habits. Toxic academic cultures do still exist; however, by taking the steps listed above, finals season will not be as terrible. Who knows, maybe the strategies listed here could even bleed into your everyday life.

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