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LSU Helps Students Ease the Stress of Finals Week

With arrival of summer only weeks away, many students feel relief and the promise of fun in the sun. But for others, it’s a time of dread, a period when overwhelming feelings of stress and worry make the thought of facing final exams nearly unbearable.

“The end of the semester signals a culmination of stressors for some students,” said Drayton Vincent, director of mental health services at the LSU Student Health Center. “There is such a thing as good stress – it’s what helps us to do well on tests, job interviews and anything else that is performance-based. It heightens awareness and helps us to put forward our very best effort. But when this stress escalates to the point that it becomes debilitating, it’s time to take action.”

Key to managing end of the semester stress is prioritization, said Vincent. He suggests making a list – not a mental one but a physical, written list.

“It’s important to write down things that you actually have to do and be very specific about them,” said Vincent. For instance, it’s more beneficial to write “I must read three chapters in my history textbook” than “study history.”

“Quantifying helps,” he said. “It’s important to know that you’ve finished a goal, and the act of physically crossing it off your list is a mental victory that goes a long way toward easing the burden of stress.”

Another important element in eradicating unhealthy stress and making finals week bearable is breaking away from the electronic connections most people have with the outside world. Smart phones, Facebook, Twitter – all of these can become time-consuming distractions during this busy period, resulting in more procrastination and an increase in stress. It’s not necessary to completely unplug, according to Vincent, but it is a good idea to monitor your usage. In other words, if you generally respond to text messages immediately, during this time it might be a good idea to silence your phone and check for messages once an hour instead.

Also, scheduling time for personal care is just as important as prioritizing deadlines. Vincent said that eating right, sleeping well and exercising can all have a direct impact on how one handles stress.

“Students can take advantage of the Rec Center and work out some stress there, but if that doesn’t suit your personality, any kind of physical exertion helps. Just getting out and taking a walk around the lake can be a tremendous relief. It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated,” he said. “Exercise clears your head and helps you to feel healthy and relaxed, which in turns lets your brain recharge and get back to business as usual.”

When students don’t sit down and develop a list or some similar method of prioritizing, they tend to start “catastrophizing,” meaning that they get stuck on the worst case scenarios. This is a detrimental thought process that quickly becomes overwhelming and takes the focus and energy away from those things one can actually accomplish in time.

“The key is to make your specific list and stick to it, but students have to remember to be honest and realistic with themselves,” said Vincent. “If you’ve missed class all semester long, it’s probably unrealistic to fixate on getting an A in the course. Instead, consider what you can feasibly do in the time you have left. You need to study efficiently, not necessarily for days on end.”

After the semester is over, if a student is unhappy with how his or her semester turned out, Vincent suggests setting aside some time to reflect on things and evaluate why events turned out the way they did.

“It’s a good time to determine – and perhaps reevaluate – your issues and priorities as a student,” he said. “LSU offers so many support services, not just through the Student Health Center, but through facilities such as the Center for Academic Success, where free tutoring and learning strategy education opportunities are offered throughout the year.”

If stress becomes an ongoing issue, LSU’s Student Health Center offers a variety of methods to help. Each semester, a series of stress management seminars geared toward helping students develop a healthy mechanism for dealing with often overwhelming situations. All sessions are confidential and cover topics from recognizing and preventing stress to successful relaxation techniques.

“One of the best parts of our confidential seminars is that students get the opportunity to work through problems together,” said Vincent. “Sometimes just seeing that you’re not alone in having a problem is enough to start the healing process.”

Of course, for those not comfortable with a group setting, there’s also the option of scheduling a one-on-one session with one of the center’s many qualified mental health counselors.

“Individual sessions have a definite impact because they’re more in-depth by nature. The student has the opportunity to guide the session and address only his/her needs in the comfort of privacy,” said Vincent.

Ashley Berthelot | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
May 2010