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How to Cope with Exam, Holiday Stress

A student copes with exam stresses.

Photo by Patrick Bradley.

While students look to the end of the classes and the holiday break beyond, most have to first confront the space looming in between: finals week.

Between papers and in-person exams, finals week can be an extremely stressful time that compounds an already demanding academic calendar. It’s the final hurdle before the respite of winter break.

Amanda Rahimi deals with stressed students every day as assistant director for outreach and consultation at AU’s Counseling Center.

“AU students have a lot of extracurriculars in addition to pretty rigorous academic work,” she explains. “So, just balancing the obligations they have in all parts of their lives is really stressful.”

Particularly with the stresses of finals, the sometimes trying work of the holidays, and even the excited preparations of students readying for study abroad in the spring, Rahimi has advice for the campus body.

“Taking care of yourself is huge. That’s what coping is,” she says. “Getting enough sleep, making sure you’re eating well consistently, trying to avoid excessive use of alcohol or other substances including caffeine because they can mess with how our bodies handle stress.”

To help students manage their workload and study habits, AU offers professional academic counselors in the Academic Support Center.

More:
Hear exam advice from an academic professional.

When hitting the books, however, Rahimi and the Counseling Center encourage students to take breaks and make room for music, hobbies, exercising, socializing, and relaxation – everything in a healthy balance.

“Especially with the academic stress, students can throw themselves into their work and not take too many breaks or work nonstop and stay busy all day,” Rahimi says. “For the most part, that’s not an effective way to deal with stress. It might get things accomplished, but in the end, you’re still feeling burnt out.”

While many students find stress to be a useful tool to encourage their work, Rahimi notes that – when stress compounds and coping or relief strategies fail – stress can need serious attention.

“There’s good stress, though,” she says. “A lot of students feel that good, healthy stress, and a lot of students we see say, ‘Stress helps me be more productive, motivated,’ which is great. But, it’s when it gets to that distress, feeling more panicked and pressured, that it’s debilitating rather than driving and motivating.”

More: Get healthy holiday tips from the Wellness Center.

For these moments of panic or distress, the Counseling Center (located in Mary Graydon Center, Room 214) keeps its doors open to all students. The Center offers a number of services to students, ranging from in-house counseling, consultations, and support groups to a self-help resource library and referrals to off-campus care.

Same-day emergency intake appointments are also available for students who may feel extreme distress.

“If a student’s ever concerned about a friend and wants to come in to talk about how to help that friend, we’re available for consultation with that as well,” Rahimi explains.

So, while the levels of stress may rise during this holiday and exam season, AU and its Counseling Center are poised to help support AU students as needed.

As Rahimi reminds in her parting advice, the academics may be rigorous and rewarding, but the care is ready and available for all.

“Stress is something that peaks during these intense periods of the semester,” she says. “It’s easy to push aside self-care and focus on your schoolwork and put all your energy into that. In the end, what will feel the best and make you most productive is to be able to care of yourself throughout that and be able to reach out for support earlier [rather] than later.”