Final exam week is an especially stressful time for students. 45% of students experience higher than average stress during finals week. Just this statistic alone emphasizes the need to help students navigate this difficult time period. The finals week stress can stem from intense workload, poor time management, lack of preparation, multiple exams, as well as future tripping about how a final exam will affect their grade and future goals. With exams being the biggest stressor for students, school faculty and staff have a huge role in supporting students' preparation.
The Importance of Reducing Stress for Students
Although stress heightens during finals week, it is necessary for students to learn proper stress management skills to help cope throughout the year. It’s well documented that stress greatly impacts emotional and physical health, but it also has other effects academically, socially, and on long term success. Although low levels of stress can be managed, as this is often unavoidable, extreme levels and chronic stress can lead to detrimental effects. Because the brain is still highly malleable during youth, high levels of stress and cortisol can cause the brain to rewire itself, which can cause future problems in life. Additionally, higher levels of student stress can lead to the development of major disorders including depression, anxiety, insomnia, obesity, the immune system, and suicidal thoughts. When left unchecked or untreated, stress will have lasting effects. Teaching students skills on how to reduce stress will overall lead them to a more successful future.
How Educators Can Help Students Prepare
All educators have the opportunity to share resources and support with their students throughout the year, especially during final exam week. There are many ways to teach positive coping skills for managing stressful situations. Some strategies that teachers can promote and educate about include:
Mindfulness: Mindfulness promotes focusing on the present moment, and becoming aware of one’s feelings and surroundings. Deep breathing exercises associated with mindfulness are shown to decrease stress and anxiety, increase energy and productivity levels, as well as improve concentration and focus.
Allow Creativity: If you find that students are having a hard time completing their work, promote creative study methods, allowing them to choose how they do their assignments. There are many different learning styles, but also fun ways to learn. Encouraging students to draw, color, sing, or perform their work in class can be a fun way for them to de-stress, as well as continue being productive! In addition to allowing students to complete their assignments in a fun way, try teaching the class in a creative way. This could include interactive games and discussions rather than simply lecturing.
Encourage students to prioritize self-care: Although self-care looks different for everyone, there are many general tips teachers can give to students to help prioritize their well-being during this stressful time. These include being smart about social media use (as social media can also increase stress and anxiety), encourage students to get enough sleep, as well as promote services offered in the school, on campus, or in the community for mental health. Additionally, teachers can assign self-care for homework (sleep log). There are many resources educators can use in developing these ideas, for example Neolth has an educator platform with pre-made lesson plans and relaxation practices to promote mental wellbeing.
Teach healthy study skills: Teachers can not only educate students on the academic material, but also on best ways to study and prepare for their final exams or projects. For example, teaching students time management skills can be extremely helpful in studying techniques. Additionally, offer ways to create study guides, additional office hour times, and general studying tips for different styles of learning.
Strategies Students Can Use on Their Own
In addition to the help of teachers, there are many ways that students can help manage their stress in their own individual ways. Studying tips are not ‘one size fits all,’ and students have to find what works best for them. Some ideas that students can try during finals week include:
Planning ahead: Cramming for a final exam the night before can greatly increase anxiety, and overall is an ineffective way to prepare. A great plan is to start preparing early, giving your mind time to properly absorb the information.
Prioritize goals and take one step at a time: Focusing on everything you have to accomplish all at once can be extremely overwhelming. Break down what you have to do in smaller items, and create a schedule. This is an easier, and more realistic, way to reach goals.
Balance school work and well-being: don’t forget to take breaks, stay active, and make meals and water a priority! Prioritizing physical activity can boost mood and decrease risk for burnout as it ensures breaks. The gut and brain have also been shown to be connected, so eating a balanced diet can also work towards increasing mood! Overall, humans need to take breaks and enjoy the outside! Nature can capture our attention and calm our nerves.
Neolth and Student Stress
Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help students stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps youth when they’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for your mental health journey. There is also an educator platform on the app, which is great for teachers to use in the classroom and within the school environment. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students and teachers alike. You can learn more at neolth.com or sign up today at cloud.neolth.com.
About the Author:
Ali Green (she/her) is the Lead Editorial Intern at Neolth, and a rising undergraduate senior at Emory University. As a student studying psychology, she found a huge passion for mental health. Upon discovering Neolth and then becoming accepted as an editorial intern, she became super excited to be able to bring awareness, education, and resources to students worldwide. She believes that it is important to create more accessible education and support around mental health issues to reduce stigmas and increase understanding. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, graphic design, and reading.