Finals week is upon us, and all that stands between a well-deserved holiday and us is a few exams, a final paper or two and maybe a presentation. For some people, it is no sweat, but for many, finals week can be more daunting than the whole semester. Therefore, keeping your stress levels in check is one of the most important things you can do.
Everyone has felt stressed at least a few times in their life; it is that feeling of emotional or physical tension in response to challenges or demands, according to the National Institutes of Health. There are two types of stress: acute stress and chronic stress.
Acute stress is stress that is experienced only for a short time before going away. Brief releases of hormones, epinephrine and cortisol, help focus your attention and give you a burst of energy to manage dangerous or demanding situations, such as avoiding a car accident or meeting a deadline. In other words, acute stress is not usually bad for you—it is actually usually beneficial.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, lingers for weeks or months. Sometimes chronic stress goes on for so long that you can begin to think that the feeling is normal. Being in a constant state of alert takes a great toll on the body and can not only hurt your school performance, but can also cause a wide range of health problems.
Long-term stress can cause or worsen acne, wreak havoc on a woman’s menstrual cycle, raise blood pressure and even make one more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety disorders. Mood swings and general grumpiness caused by stress can hurt your personal relationships. Self-isolation is common in those undergoing excessive stress, which can in turn lead to loneliness and further fuel the stress.
Many signs that you may be experiencing too much stress are easily overlooked. Some include headaches, upset stomach, tiredness, an inability to focus, memory loss, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, stiff muscles and the use of drugs or alcohol to relax. It is important to be aware of changes in your body’s behavior and consider the possible cause before dismissing it as harmless.
If you find that you are suffering from chronic stress or are simply beginning to feel overwhelmed by it in the approach of finals week, do not despair. While you cannot make your responsibilities go away, there are a few things you can do to relieve the pressure they exert. Eating well and exercise help keep stress at bay. Even putting on music and walking around the house can relieve a bit of stress. Hanging out with friends and family is another great way to let off a little steam, but do not feel obligated to pack a full schedule. Grandma will understand if you put off that visit until after your last exam.
Seeking professional help for stress can also be a great help, but it is not always necessary. However, if you begin to experience violent outbursts, panic attacks, chest pains or thoughts of suicide, it is best to seek help from your doctor, the university health center, the counseling center or a suicide prevention hotline.
As finals loom closer, remember to give yourself adequate time to prepare, do not be afraid to give yourself a break or two, and look forward to those four weeks without academic obligation.