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Dealing with stress during finals

The late night study sessions and last minute cramming during finals can make for a stressful time.

Health Matters

Final exams, dreaded by students for many obvious reasons — late night studying, last minute cramming, and lack of sleep — begin next week. In some instances it can seem that an entire semester hinges on the results of one test, making final exam week extremely hectic and stressful.

Despite the stress, Bonnie Jean Teitleman (SSW’83) urges students to keep their cool during finals. Teitleman is the director of the Faculty/Staff Assistance Office, which offers help to people suffering from stress and anxiety.

“Understand that a little stress is normal and appropriate, but don’t lose the big picture,” she says. “A final exam may seem important at the moment, but your ultimate success depends on more than a single exam.”

Instead of succumbing to the stress, which not only can negatively affect test performance, but can also cause long-term health problems, Teitleman encourages students to focus their nervous energy on doing the best they can. “Prepare as well as you can, but don’t lose your perspective and sense of humor,” she says.

According to the Faculty/Staff Assistance Office Web site, there are two forms of stress: acute and chronic. Symptoms of acute stress include tense muscles, uneasiness, increased perspiration, and nervous thoughts. Chronic stress symptoms can be more subtle and accumulate over time, causing physical ailments such as heart palpitations, stomachaches and headaches, and high blood pressure.

Teitleman explains how these physical symptoms occur. “Stress can affect the autonomic nervous system, which triggers neuroendocrine activity and the release of hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure and adversely impact other bodily functions,” she says. “Although this ‘fight or flight’ response is adaptive in an emergency, it becomes maladaptive in the long run. It can contribute to high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, depression, substance abuse, and other medical disorders.”

To minimize stress, Teitleman suggests evaluating what makes you experience stress in the first place. If cramming for an exam leaves you frazzled, modify your behavior by studying for a few hours each night during the week leading up to the exam instead of trying to fit all your studying into one night.

And, as always, she says, “Good health habits such as exercise, moderation, sleep, and avoidance of substances can be helpful in minimizing the impact of stress.”