Ready or not, it's that time of year again. Finals season is upon us, and many high school and college students are feeling stressed and anxious.
It may be a particularly stressful time for high school seniors who want to end the semester strong to improve their chances of being admitted into their top-choice schools or who are writing a letter of continued interest to try to change a deferral into an acceptance.
Trust me: I get it. I've been there myself. (As of this writing, I have a high school senior and a college junior who are beginning their late-night study sessions.)
While I don’t have the tips and tricks to guarantee you breeze through finals with all 100s, I can offer you 13 tips to help you better deal with stress during finals. Follow a few (or all) of these, and I’m pretty sure you’ll come out the other side of this stress-filled time with your sanity (mostly) intact.
Ready? Let’s go.
Yes, you need to study for your exams, but that doesn't mean you have to spend every waking minute hunched over your textbook. Make sure you’re giving your brain a rest every once in a while. Don't try to power through and study for hours on end; instead, take a few minutes every hour (or even more often) to step away from your books and computer screen. Go for a walk, listen to some music, stretch, grab some coffee (maybe alternate with some decaf?), text or call a friend, or just sit and do nothing for a bit.
Your brain will thank you.
Just don’t step away for so long that you find yourself procrastinating and even more stressed than you were before.
Tip: Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? Essentially, you work for a set amount of time, then take a break for a short period. The original technique uses 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a short 5- or 10-minute break. I use TomatoTimer (I'm even using it right now as I write this blog) to set timers of varying lengths to remind me to take that break and give my eyes and brain a break.
It probably goes without saying, but exercise is a great way to relieve stress during finals. It gets your blood flowing, releases endorphins, and can help clear your mind. It might even improve your mood and outlook a little! Plus, it's a great way to take a break from studying.
For a longer brain break, hit the gym or go for a run. Don’t have much time? What about doing a quick exercise video on YouTube or some jumping jacks in your dorm room? Your body will thank you, and I’m pretty sure your memory and concentration levels will get a boost, too!
It's tempting just to grab whatever junk food is available when you're stressed and cramming for exams (Hello, DoorDash and Uber Eats!), but trust me, that's not going to help keep stress levels under control over the long run. Too many sugary snacks and energy drinks might give you a quick burst of energy, but they'll also cause a killer crash later on.
Try to eat a balanced diet and make sure you're getting enough fruits, vegetables, and protein. It will help keep your energy levels up and your mind sharp.
I know what you’re thinking: “Sleep? Who has time to sleep during finals week?” Getting enough sleep is crucial for staying focused, retaining information, and not sleeping through your actual final. Don’t laugh, but try to make sure you're getting at least seven or eight hours of sleep a night. While napping during the day doesn’t count toward that total, if your body is telling you to nap: Do it.
And try to avoid caffeine and screens (TV, phone, computer) at least an hour before bed to help you relax and fall asleep. I know that sounds impossible during finals week, but give it a try. TikTok will be there post-finals, I promise.
Tip: I swear by this heated eye mask. Not only does it block out the light, but it also has a timer (with auto-shutoff) and three heat settings to zap that tension right from my face.
Drinking enough water is important for keeping your body and mind functioning properly, which is key to a successful finals week. So, make sure you're drinking enough water throughout the day. And no, coffee and soda don't count as water, so try to limit those as much as possible. Not only will the extra sugar cause you to crash, but the high doses of caffeine that are keeping you awake are also making you more jittery and anxious.
Tip: If plain water isn’t your thing (I know it isn’t mine), try making some fruit-infused water using this water bottle from Amazon (you should have some fruit on hand if you paid attention to Tip 3) or some flavored water enhancers like Mio.
I know, I know. This one is easier said than done. But trust me, putting things off until the last minute will only add to your stress during finals. It's easy to procrastinate when you have a lot of material to cover and not a lot of time to do it in. But trust me, making a study schedule and sticking to it will help you stay organized and on top of your workload.
Start studying early, and try to tackle the hardest subjects first. It will make the rest of your studying much easier and can ease finals week stress.
By breaking down your final exam studying into smaller, manageable chunks and spreading it out over a few days, suddenly things can feel much more manageable. Plus, having a schedule will help keep you on track and make sure you're not cramming everything in at the last minute. Combine your schedule with the Tomato Timer from Tip 1 for max success.
Tip: I swear by this reusable Rocket Book notebook, which makes it super-easy to plan out my day. Even cooler, I can send my handwritten notes to popular cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, OneNote, email, and more!
Misery loves company, so why not study in groups? Studying with other people can not only be a great way to stay motivated and on track, but it also might help you pick up some tips and tricks on mastering difficult concepts. Just make sure to choose your study group wisely. Surrounding yourself with classmates who aren’t taking finals seriously or who are going to take more than they give won’t help you.
While I’ve shared some ways to take care of yourself physically and academically when you’re feeling stress during finals week, it’s also uber-important to take care of your mental well-being.
If you're really struggling with the material or feeling overwhelmed, don't be afraid to seek help. Talk to your teacher or professor, visit your school's tutoring center, or even ask a classmate who seems to have a good handle on the material. Remember, there's no shame in asking for help, and getting the support you need can make all the difference.
Please also reach out to friends, family, or a counselor if you need support dealing with the overall stress of final exam week. You have so many people around you who want to help you succeed. Let them help. Talking to someone about your stress can often help you feel better and give you a fresh perspective.
Final exam week may feel like chaos, but that doesn’t mean your desk area has to mimic it! A cluttered workspace can be overwhelming and make it harder to focus. Take some time in the morning or right before bed to keep your study area organized and free of distractions. This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Deep breathing is a simple and effective way to relax and reduce stress. It seems simple, but it works.
When you're feeling overwhelmed, try taking a few deep breaths. Close your eyes, then inhale deeply through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this a few times, and you should start to feel more relaxed.
Your thoughts can have a big impact on your mood and stress levels. Have you ever heard Henry Ford's saying, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” The right mindset means everything.
So instead of beating yourself up and thinking negative thoughts about what you can’t do or what you don’t have time for, try to reframe it positively. Tell yourself that you can do it and that you're capable of succeeding. Pretty soon, you’ll start to believe it — and that will help boost your confidence and reduce stress.
Don't forget to reward yourself for all your hard work. After you finish an exam or study session, treat yourself to something you enjoy. It can be as simple as a piece of chocolate or a favorite TV show. This will help motivate you and give you something to look forward to.
Finals are important — I won’t lie. But they’re also not the end of the world. So, try not to get too stressed out about them.
Take deep breaths, listen to some calming music, or try some relaxation techniques (or even this stress relief essential oil blend). And remember, even if you don't ace every exam, you're still awesome.
So there you have it — 13 tips for easing stress during finals week. Remember, it's okay to feel stressed — it's a natural response to a challenging situation. But using these tips should help you get through finals with a little more ease.
You've got this!