Anxiety Handbook: How to Handle Finals with Anxiety
According to Webster dictionary, the word final (noun) is defined in North America as: “an examination at the end of a term, academic year, or particular class.” Finals in college are especially famous for being filled with late nights, an excess of caffeine and continual mental unrest, but unfortunately for students like myself who struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, this period of increased stress can be seriously detrimental to our mental health.
What are the facts? The 2015 National College Health Assessment survey reported that nearly one in six college students (15.8 percent) had been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety. And the same survey found that 21.9 percent of students said that within the last 12 months, anxiety negatively affected their academic performance.
As most college campuses are quickly embarking on finals season, NCHA’s studies demonstrate two important reminders regarding anxiety. First these statistics are a reminder to anyone struggling with anxiety that they are not alone in their courageous battle. And in my opinion, that reminder is especially vital for college students who live and breath in an atmosphere that constantly reinforces the inaccurate idea that acknowledging one’s struggles is a sign of weakness. Lastly, this study is a perfect reminder of how incredibly important it is to create an honest and encouraging environment for students to discuss their anxieties in order to ensure that their academic success does not suffer this final season.
So with all this considered, as a junior at California Polytechnic University and self-proclaimed anxiety expert, I am here to step forward and bravely embody those two previous reminders by admitting my struggles as we approach finals. And in the spirit of such embodied, today I want to share five ways to combat anxiety during finals:
How-To Reduce Anxiety During Finals:
1.) Find your Bigger Purpose/Why Behind your Hustle:
If I could give just one piece of advice about finals and anxiety it would be to remind students that in midst of what feels like a life determining time, in all actuality, your academic success is not all that matters. During finals our spiritual health can take a turn for the worst because our academic success or other’s external perception of us can become an unhealthy determiner of our worth.
Not everyone has the same bigger being or purpose to focus on, but speaking from my personal experience, clinging on to reading my bible and praying during periods of high stress and anxiety, has truly SAVED me.
Along these same lines, I think it is so important to find the why behind your academic endeavors. Because without a clear WHY to cling onto, it is far too easy to become trapped in the hustle feeling empty and unfulfilled. So as we embark on this finals season, I challenge you to take time to find the why behind it all.
And after you take time to step back and analyze, (and perhaps even alter) your motives and expectations behind your academic performance, I promise you that your why will come in extremely handy when our good friend anxiety inevitably tries to snatch us away from achieving our why. As a side note: remembering your why behind your hustle is an active responsibility. So, set alarms to remind you of your why. Journal about your why. Ask your friends and family to remind you of your why.
2.) Find and Stick to a Workout Routine: "I Work Out." *Cue "I'm Sexy and I Know It.*
“Working out is a powerful way to release pent up stress and increase your endorphins,” (trust me when I say that sounded as much like a broken record to me as it did to you).
Ironically one of the first things I do when I feel my heart pound outside my body or anxiously watch my to-do list grow at a rapid pace, is neglect to work out. And the irony of this statement lies in the fact that the exact same anxiety that I attempt to reduce by cutting out working out is only amplified by my illogical neglect.
And remember that working out looks completely different for everyone (especially during periods of high stress), so focus on consistency rather than competition. Challenge yourself to venture to find what works best for no one other than yourself. Perhaps your “best” looks like a structured routine, occasional yoga class or weekly hike with friends. But no matter what it is, I can almost guarantee that it will make this final season and the anxiety that it brings with it, so much more bearable.
3.) Routines, Routines, Routines:
My next tip to reducing your anxiety this final season is to actively use a planner and implement a routine as much as possible. In my humble opinion, routines have so many benefits, (some of which I will share below):
First, routines provide people like myself who struggle with anxiety (which often results in the constant need to overthink about the future), with some consistency and predictability.
And second, if a portion of your routine is used to accomplish on your never ending finals to-do list, then your routine will most likely increase your productivity. Granted it is pretty universal that when a student consistently tackles their to-do list they experience less stress, but for students who battle anxiety (holler at yo girl), that lessening of stress during a period of high-anxiety is CRUCIAL.
Speaking from personal experience, my anxiety improves exponentially during finals when I set, write and stick to a specific routine, (especially if I am faithful to incorporate a healthy school-life balance into it). Obviously your weekly/monthly plan will inevitably change because life happens and flexibility is key, but as someone who has found this out this hard way by letting her mind over analyze every unknown aspect in her final schedule: some routine, is far better than no routine.
And lastly, be VERY cautious not to use routine as fuel to control every aspect of your life as I often do--especially during finals when there are so many added anxiety-triggers and an abundance of unpredictability.
4.) In the famous words of Tom Haverford, “Treat Yo Self.”
Although it may not seem like it in the moment, finals are thankfully short-lived periods of extra anxiety, (and yes I say extra, because hello, even week one gives me anxiety). So why not take advantage of the the fleeting nature of finals by treating yourself as frequently as possible?!
But as you treat yourself, remember to find your own healthy balance even during such a precarious and stress-filled time. Personally for example, I strive for the 80/20 rule when it comes to my diet. 80% of the time I focus on fueling my body during finals with protein, veggies, fruits, etc., but 20% I splurge, (with the right mindset)
If I feel like eating a pint of ice cream, I do it. If I want to treat myself to a Starbucks every day during finals week, I do it.
So what is all this nonsense about being in the“right mindset” when we splurge? Well, as anyone with anxiety can probably tell you, we are our worst critics, (hello ability to spot a flaw in ourselves a mile away).
And consequently, our critic tendencies frequently propel us to want to throw in the towel at the sign of any personal imperfection and use an otherwise healthy occasional splurge to fuel our familiar self-deprecation. However the fantastic news here is that just because anxiety friends like myself are more prone to use splurges with the wrong mindset, it does not have to be that way, (and I am living proof of that reality).
My biggest tip to fight against that tendency is to create an inner dialogue that reminds you that you deserve to splurge occasionally, and more importantly, that your splurge is a powerful means of self-love and appreciation for yourself during this (extra) anxiety-filled period.
5.) Take Time to Embrace the Season with or without your Squad:
Before I write this last tip I want to preface it by saying that writing this blog has reminded me of all of the ways that I need to keep challenging myself during finals, and this last tip is the epitome of that challenge. I must confess that during times like finals, I am utterly exhausted from constantly battling my dear friend anxiety from snatching my attentions that by the time I actually get free time, I want to sit back and watch Netflix.
I want to give my brain a rest from constant and exhausting stimulation and planning. I want to isolate myself from situations that would further require me to battle my anxiety. And the last thing I want to do is text my squad, doll myself up or embrace basic holiday traditions.
But despite my reluctance, during almost every season of stress I relearn the importance of taking time to rest in moderation and embrace the season with good friends. Fall and spring finals seem to always come during the turn and height of a season, so I strongly advise my fellow students not to waste those seasons of bliss. Instead, challenge yourself to surround yourself with your squad, (and remember that could be your crazy puppy or baby sister) and embrace the season!
Because I believe that despite your anxiety, you can run to the pumpkin patch, try that basic cinnamon Latte at your local coffee shop, decorate your house with sparkly lights and embrace the holiday season in the same inspiring way that you are choose to embrace the stress of finals.