Written by Kay Collins, Graduate Assistant
Warm, sunny days are becoming more frequent as the spring semester comes to a close. This semester, finals begin April 29th, and it is typically a busy time for students as projects, papers, and cumulative tests are due. The purpose of finals is to ensure that you retain the knowledge you've worked so hard to gain. While it is a normal response to feel additional stress, it's important to manage the stress so it does not cause harm to your health and wellbeing.
According to National College Health Assessment data, among University of Utah students, the top 3 factors that negatively impact academic performance are stress, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. Unfortunately, these factors can lead to procrastination, which only exacerbates these stressors. As deadlines mount, it becomes easy to let go of self-care practices and habits. In moments of stress, you need to care for yourself the most, yet the unfortunate truth is that it's usually when you tend to do it the least.
It is best to prioritize movement, nutrition, and rest, as these practices ease stress, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. These work together to keep us feeling energized, focused, and able to retain facts. The ways in which you engage look different from anyone else. It could come in the form of desk stretches, eating nutrient-dense foods, or reducing phone (or any type of screen) usage at night. In addition, relaxation techniques and mindfulness practices can also foster calmness, giving you the mental energy to tackle hard things. The Mindfulness Center is a great place to find mindfulness events and resources. Meditation and mindfulness may not come easy, but just like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Keep an un-judgmental mentality, as there is no correct way to be mindful.
Dr. Carol Dweck's theory of mindset describes a growth mindset. A growth mindset believes that abilities can be developed through effort, persistence, trying different strategies, and learning from mistakes. A growth mindset approach says you can learn from past experiences and apply those lessons to your future actions. With that in mind, think back on finals weeks in the past. What worked for you? What didn't? Gleaning valuable information about your past behaviors can help set you up to succeed in the future. If you're unsure of best practices for studying, you can meet with an advocate and find resources through the Student Success Advocates. You can find videos, articles, websites, worksheets, and more on topics such as:
- Time management
- Test-taking tips
- Food & nutrition
- Stress management
Despite our best efforts, procrastination can still creep in. Sometimes, late nights may be unavoidable. A 2018 research study compared productivity with a lack of sleep. When participants were sleepy and/or had mild insomnia, their productivity dropped as much as 50%, and moderate insomnia reduced productivity by 107%. These results illustrate that studying without sleep nearly doubles the amount of time it takes to complete a task than working after a good night's rest. When you do work late into the night, keep these tips in mind to work more efficiently:
- Keep the room bright
- Eat protein-rich foods
- Avoid high sugary drinks and excessive caffeine to prevent crashing
- Walk around during breaks
In the last year, you've adapted to online learning, learned how to communicate over Zoom, pushed through moments of uncertainty, and taken care of yourself when experiencing burnout. It may not look perfect, and that's OK! Despite it all, you've proved your resiliency and ability to adapt to new habits. Pat yourself on the back to celebrate the ways you have supported yourself through this semester!
Kay Collins in CSW's Graduate Assistant.