Coping with finals week stress
Finals week can be the most stressful time during the entire semester. It may feel like 16 weeks of hard work come down to a handful of tests, papers and presentations.
It's this stress that often causes students to struggle. The pressure coming from classes, extracurriculars and other outside factors can make finals week a nightmare if it's not properly addressed.
The University Counseling Center at Grand Valley State University offers several events for its co-sponsored, semesterly "Exam Cram." The events on the schedule are designed to relax students, and they will run through Wednesday, Dec. 13.
Being able to reduce stress is important for academic success. Nick Debernardi, a licensed psychologist in the University Counseling Center, said the center is a resource for all GVSU students to utilize.
"We tend to see the students where their stress is interfering with their ability to concentrate, to study, or they're finding it difficult to cope to succeed in school," he said.
Students may perceive a negative stigma associated with visiting the counseling center, but Debernardi said the counseling center can help in a number of ways.
"It can be uncomfortable and we understand that," he said. "I think the one thing I'd like to make sure people know is that sometimes people think you have to have very serious mental health concerns, (but) we help students in a variety of ways. That can just be stress, relationship conflict, academic stress, just some simple coping.
"I think the idea of really normalizing what we offer, and it can be everyday life that's building (stress) up. We work with you to find a way that's most comfortable."
Outside of visiting the University Counseling Center, Debernardi said self-care and treating your body right is another useful step toward reducing stress.
"Eat, sleep, take care of yourself (and) keep it very simple," he said. "We all know what the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain are. It does have a severe impact. When you talk about trying to do your best with recalling information or applying information on exams, it clearly does have an effect."
According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, sleep deprivation has a significant negative correlation with academic performance, meaning that a lesser amount of sleep generally leads to a poorer academic performance.
"It's very common for people not to get a lot of sleep now," Debernardi said. "So, I think it's knowing yourself, knowing what you can handle. Try to get as much sleep, six to seven hours. The big thing is to try to get in to a deep sleep."
Debernardi added that sleeping in blocks, or sleeping for short periods at a time throughout the day, isn't as helpful as falling into a prolonged deep sleep.
One factor outside of sleep that can have a negative impact on students who are stressed and possibly thinking about self-harm is social media and, more specifically, negative posts on social media. A quick Twitter search of the terms "exams," "kill" and "myself" will pull up an entire timeline filled with tweets with suicidal language. Even if the language is hyperbolic, seeing a post like this can be harmful.
"I think it can (be) very triggering for somebody, especially if they're using it in a joking manner," Debernardi said. "It can be kind of dismissing and invalidating to see somebody joke with that when you're struggling and you maybe thinking of that."
According to a 2015 report done the Pew Research Center, social media users tend to be more aware of stressful events in the lives of others. Discerning what is jest and what are serious thoughts of self-harm can be difficult.
"The biggest thing is if you don't know if somebody is joking is to ask," Debernardi said. He also brought up the Question, Persuade, Refer outreach topic sessions at GVSU that aim to help students recognize warning signs of suicide, which is the second-largest cause of death for college students.
The University Counseling Center will maintain its normal hours during the week of finals from Monday, Dec. 11, to Thursday, Dec. 14. Students are also encouraged to participate in the many Exam Cram sessions to reduce stress as well.