BU Today

Campus Life

Fear of Finals

Managing the stress of final exams can be as challenging as the exams themselves.

Health Matters

Finals are perhaps the most dreaded time of year for students. And while feelings of nervousness, anxiety, dread, and fear are normal at the end of the semester, letting stress take over can result in doing poorly on exams and papers.

“A looming deadline or exam can be stressful for a variety of reasons, but usually because we may be afraid we’re not prepared or that we won’t perform well,” says Beth Grampetro, health and wellness educator at the Office of Residence Life.

Excessive stress causes the body’s “fight or flight” response. If repeated often, says Grampetro, this response can cause headaches, sleep disruptions, high blood pressure, upset stomach, and a worsening of any existing diseases.

The effects of stress can take many different forms, says Bonnie Jean Teitleman (SSW’83), director of the Faculty/Staff Assistance Office, which offers help to faculty and staff suffering from stress and anxiety. The physical effects of stress include tightness in the chest, rapid heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, or restlessness. Emotional effects include difficulty concentrating, negative thoughts, and unpleasant feelings of apprehension, dread, or shame. Men are especially susceptible to feelings of shame, Teitleman says, because many of them have a harder time asking for help.

Chronic stress can have a lasting negative impact on health and wellness, but short-term stress, which Teitleman calls a normal part of the educational process, doesn’t permanently affect the body.

She recommends managing stress by studying in a timely way, concentrating on the hardest subjects first. Sleeping well, eating right, and taking study breaks are also important, she says.

“Use some cognitive behavioral strategies, such as visualizing how it will feel when you’ve done a good job,” she says. “Use positive self-talk, such as telling yourself, ‘I know I can do this.’”

Grampetro says that a great way to respond to stress is to engage in some physical activity, which relieves some of the physical feelings of stress. She also suggests studying early and often.

“Waiting to cram all of your studying into the two-day study period is a surefire way to stress yourself out,” she says. “If you are feeling stressed about an upcoming test or deadline, the best response is to plan and prepare and utilize that energy to do your best to succeed, not to worry and obsess about the issue.”

Grampetro will host a WellBreak, where students can drop in for snacks or to play games, on Wednesday, December 13, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Wellness and Residential Education office at 19 Deerfield St.

Students may also stop by Coffee @ Finals, hosted by the Educational Resource Center, in CAS Room 319 from December 14 through 16 from 8 to 11 p.m. Free coffee and snacks and drop-in tutoring in calculus, physics, statistics, economics, and chemistry will be available.

Meghan Noé can be reached at mdorney@bu.edu.