This story was originally published on The Mighty, a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities.
Editor's Note: Julie Wolfson is an Academic Coach at Fountain House's College Re-Entry Program, which helps academically-engaged 18-30 year-old college students, who withdraw from their studies due to mental health challenges, return to college and successfully reach their educational goals. She has a master's degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and helped to create College Re-Entry's overall program.
Final exams are stressful for all college students, wherever they go to school. Students who experience mental health challenges may be especially susceptible to this additional stress. During any periods when stress is high, I like to help students come up with a plan that outlines both how they will tackle the work and also take care of themselves.
It is best to create any plan before finals begin. If, however, your finals period has already started, you can still create a plan to get you to the end. Planning ahead is a great way to avoid getting overwhelmed, particularly if you know you are headed into a stressful time.
What should you include in your plan? Consider incorporating some of the suggestions below:
1. Set daily study goals and study times for each day
It can be helpful to come up with specific study goals for each day. In the evening, look at what you got done that day and the most important tasks to pick up with the following day. Remember to leave extra time for when things don't go according to plan (because let's face it, they often won't. Life doesn't always stay on schedule and that's OK!).
2. Use proven study techniques.
I advise the students I work with to use the Pomodoro Technique, which alternates 25-minute dedicated work sessions with five-minute breaks to keep your brain on task and alert. Please avoid those six-hour cram sessions! They are exhausting and not the way that most people learn best.
3. Set aside time to do things you enjoy.
While it may feel like you should spend every minute of the day studying, the time you take do so something enjoyable is just as important! Consider spending time with a friend or volunteering for a cause you support… anything you enjoy that doesn't keep you up all night. Getting away from the books for a little while can clear your head and give you needed energy.
4. Take care of your physical needs.
Eat, sleep and drink lots of water! Healthy food is your fuel and will keep you going during stressful times. Sleep is also especially important during finals, when your brain is busy processing a lot of information. There may be times it feels more important to stay up and get in an extra few hours of studying, but try not to do it! You will learn more efficiently and process more information if your brain and body are well rested. Lack of sleep can also trigger symptoms of mental illness, so it is especially important to make sure you are getting enough zzzz's.
Yoga, Zumba, a quick run, a brisk walk…whatever you like to do! Exercise decreases stress and increases focus — exactly what you need during finals.
6. Make use of all available resources.
Finals are a great time to check in with your Office of Accessibility and make sure all your accommodations are in place. Often, these offices host a variety of stress busting activities including animal visits, free yoga sessions and more. Remember that no matter how crunched you may feel for time, this is definitely not the time to cancel appointments with your support team. Your therapist may not be able to help with your schoolwork but s/he can help keep you in a positive place to study.
Finals period is a stressful time for everyone. Just remember that planning is important and the support is out there if you need to help make it through! Come up with a plan, take care of yourself and stay in touch with those who support you.
And, good luck!
Meet a successful College Re-Entry core program alumna as she describes her student experience:
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