Many students experience it. The weeks leading up to the end of April are consumed with devious plans for Veishea, the wearing away of Spring Break tans, a frustration with the unpredictable weather and a natural “I’ll do it later” attitude.
Then it hits: the uneasy feeling that Dead Week is here and preparation for finals have only begun to set in. Indeed, a large number of students at Iowa State face this dilemma which, in the end, often creates a queasiness known as finals stress. Many have their own way of dealing with this epidemic, such as consuming dangerous levels of caffeine or playing "Modern Warfare" for hours on end until the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred. These methods may prove adequate to some students, but they are not highly recommended.
Iowa State offers many services and techniques that can ensure students a successful and low-stress end to the school year.
“What we see students facing is they don’t know how to create a study plan for this week and next week,” said Jill Kramer, coordinator of the Academic Intervention and Coaching Program at the Academic Success Center. “They don’t always plan for multiple tests in one week, much less what content is going to be on the test.”
Kramer went on to say that when stress sets in like it does during Dead Week and finals, many students have trouble focusing on the content of one particular test because their minds are thinking about multiple tests at once.
The Academic Success Center recommends — and even gives out free of charge — a weekly grid in which students can plan out their study, sleep, eating and workout times. Kramer said weekly planning has proven to be highly successful and emphasized how important a healthy diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise are to the success of students during this time.
“The research we read talks about how a good night’s rest is much healthier for students’ brains than cramming for an extra three hours,” Kramer said. “If they keep cramming material and consuming caffeine to stay awake, it becomes unhealthy. Sleep keeps your brain fresh.”
Additionally, having an outlet — whether it be a group of friends to study with or family members to vent to — is vital to lowering stress levels and performing better on exams during these times.
“When dealing with the stress of finals, students need to find outlets to go to,” Kramer said. “Maybe find family and friends to talk to and help them realize that this is only a temporary stress. Also. finding a study partner or group who can pull you away from the couch and get you to study is also beneficial.”
Students who seek alternative avenues for dealing with stress during this time should set their sights on the Student Counseling Service, which recognizes the problems that come with studying for finals and can recommend many methods to help students relax.
“We see in crunch times like this things ranging from depression to eating disorders and many others,” said Jeffrey Ellens, coordinator of the Mind/Body Center and Biofeedback at SCS. “It’s because academic pressure combined with lack of sleep, eating poorly and not exercising leads to heightened levels of stress.”
Ellens echoed the concerns of Kramer over the unhealthy and stressful lifestyles that many students lead around this time of the year and said that, aside from the students the counseling service sees throughout the year, they can direct first-time students to services at Iowa State that are aimed at reducing stress. One of these services is Biofeedback, which can be viewed through SCS’s website. After only an hour-long orientation, students who wish to help reduce their stress levels are free to use the equipment available to help assess and lower their stress levels.
“Basically what we do is we teach students to use equipment to monitor their stress levels,” Ellens said. “That way, they can monitor their own stress and deal with it. Along with that, they will learn breathing exercises as well as relaxation and mindfulness techniques. This is a great stress reducer for students, and any student on campus can use it.”
SCS also provides services such as online counseling, which has proven to be successful, and meditation classes, taught by Ellens every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. at State Gym. Ellens said any student can come any week and take the class to refocus themselves. This is important because meditation teaches people to focus on the here and now, which is crucial for students at a time like this.
What may be most noteworthy to all students dealing with stress at any point throughout the year is that these services, both at the Academic Success Center and Student Counseling Service, are completely free to students. Furthermore, students who wish to make it through the end of the year on their own should also be conscious of the choices they make both throughout the entire semester in order to secure a positive result come the end of the year.
“Returning to the basics is key,” Ellens said. “Food equals fuel; you need to nourish your body. Getting sleep and taking breaks are also very important. Keep balance in your life. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so start early.”