How I passed finals week and survived: the best stress management strategies


I never thought I was someone prone to anxiety before I got into college. High school could be challenging at times, but the perfectionist in me could still manage submitting homework on time and passing a few exams once in a while. Besides, what stress can one have while still living at home with their parents? College, on the other hand, turned out to be very different. 

Once I became a freshman, I felt blasted by my first exams. Every assignment became a psychological burden, and finals week was a trial by fire that I could not stand, plain and simple. I was used to getting top grades, but quickly found I could no longer do it with the effort I put in. After the exams were over, I turned into an angry, exhausted, miserable student unable to move on or ask for help. 

Why all of us need to take hold of college stress

Back then, I thought I was the only weak fool unable to pass their very first college exams. But I was not alone. It turned out that my peers had pretty much the same trouble with surviving finals week. Then, I looked through top publications in psychology and time management trying to find advice on stress relief. I processed a lot of information from different sources. Moreover, I tried these suggested time management strategies myself. In this finals survival guide, I will give you the only tips that really worked for me. In fact, I still use them when academic pressure starts to get too heavy.

Signs of stress that are easy to ignore

For starters, emotional distress is not a heart attack. Even if you notice that something is wrong with your mood and energy, chances are high that you will not take any actions to correct them. It is still a week before the first exam, but you have already noticed tension in your muscles and agitation on your mind. Every time you talk to your loved ones, you start quarreling. You become testy with your teachers and friends. You may suddenly get extremely hungry or, on the contrary, lose your appetite for the food you normally enjoy. 

All of these are signs that college finals week is really stressing you out. And of course, no one has ever died of stress. Still, the consequences of living under pressure will catch up with you in the long run.

Effects of stress you are not going to like 

First, the mental overload will make you prohibitively uncomfortable. You will find it hard to eat, sleep, become distracted from thoughts of exams, and discuss anything not related to the source of your stress. You will get fully consumed by fear, which is, delicately put, severely counter-productive. Procrastination will seem like the only way to escape studying hell, but it will not help you to relax. On the contrary, you’ll stay paralyzed when it’s time to work the hardest. In the long-term, chronic stress is believed to cause depression and anxiety, along with other mental health issues. The good news is you can stop wearing yourself out because of studying. Here is what you need to try. 

sad dog

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Stress management strategies and activities that helped me personally

Make a daily schedule

Good stress management always requires organizing your activities intelligently. First, prioritize tasks and schedule only the most important ones for the day. Plenty of your pre-exam assignments are not terribly urgent, and there is no point in taking all of them on right away. Next, spare some time for rest in between college-related assignments. You need this time to eat, take a nap, or just distract yourself from studying for a bit. 

Take notes

A considerable percentage of pre-exam stress comes from the feeling that you’re required to keep everything in your head. You do not need that. Take notes whenever you hear anything important and then prioritize tasks in your schedule. Writing things down is one of the best ways to deal with stress. Now you can get rid of the clinging feeling that you are constantly missing something.

Walk around

Besides organization, you will need regular relaxation before exams. Whether you like sports or not, walking in the park is an excellent way of coping with stress. It gives you the opportunity to move, breathe fresh air, and try to think about something unrelated to your exams. Take a walk to distract yourself from your most troubling experiences. It will also help you eat and sleep better. 

Stay social

Loneliness can worsen every crisis you go through. If your loved ones are not around, find yourself company you feel comfortable with. You can take a walk with a friend or engage in any social activities you like. Though you still have to spend a lot of time studying in isolation, it does not mean that you are alone in general. 

In your early college life, a lot of things can stress you out. While you cannot escape exams, you can rethink your approach to them and other disappointing college experiences. 

painted eggs

Photo by Tengy Art on Unsplash

A few other important things I figured out during my exam crisis

Besides organization and relaxation, you need a great deal of motivation to overcome daily challenges. Here are the strategies that worked best for me.

Think of one good thing when you wake up

It will be hard to reach success if you dread the day to come while you’re still lying in bed. I wasted a lot of time in the morning just because my self-doubt paralyzed me the moment I woke up. To break out of this habit, try thinking about your greatest positive ambitions in the morning. Imagine what you want with intensity no matter how far away the target is. It is also a great way of dealing with stress as your brain releases stimulating chemicals at the very moment you think about it. 

Remind yourself that what you’re afraid of isn’t real

You wouldn’t be so stressed if your fear of failure wasn’t hanging over you. Unfortunately, we’re all afraid of different things, from exams to social image. Fear is a great evolutionary tool that helped humans develop into who we are today. However, most of our fears are counterproductive in modern society. If you contemplate the objects of your fears, you will also see that they are mostly imaginary. The chances that you will fail your exams are miserable if you work hard on your education. Your negative thoughts are similarly illusory, and with habituation you can substitute them with positive affirmations. 

In spite of the cornucopia of ways to manage stress suggested for struggling students, your first finals will most likely overwhelm you. Still, you can work on your stress resistance as I did and you will find your experiences considerably less negative in the future. Even when you find yourself floundering in a sea of anxiety, there is always a safe haven. You just need to find yours.

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Steven Bloom
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Steven is an IT student who constantly seeks new opportunities for self-development. He is also fond of popular culture and entertainment. Lately, Steven has started writing about the challenges he faces as a student. He finds it helpful to brainstorm when difficult tasks arise.