Mental Health for Final Exams

Six strategies to get the finish line

15 December 2019


Kristen Lee :
Finals are coming. The end-of-semester finish line is in sight, but there's still a massive marathon to get through. The adrenaline of the final push when you've already been running all semester can be anxiety-provoking. As intense as it can be, there are ways to stay resilient and finish strong.
Here are six ways to protect your mental health during finals season:
1. Don't stress about being stressed.
Stress is unavoidable and not all bad. "Eustress" or good stress primes the brain to perform. We need a measure of it to complete tasks and do our best. It can be leveraged. Don't freak out about freaking out. It's normal. It shows you're invested, that you care, and that you want to do well.
2. Don't waste time "shoulding" yourself.
You might have let things pile up, or procrastinated, or made some mistakes along the way, but don't waste time and energy beating yourself up over it. Focus on what you can do right now to finish strong, rather than depleting your energy by listening to your toxic inner critic.
3. Avoid the temptation for self-neglect.
You're not a robot or a machine-give your brain the time off it needs. Brain science shows us that when we practice self-care and include break rituals, it helps cultivate resilience and protect mental health. While it's tempting to pull all-nighters, skip meals or workouts, or cut off social interactions, brain science shows us that we will maximize mental health and performance through regular breaks and self-care activities.
4. Don't isolate.
You are not alone. Seek community. Friendships and connections with mentors, therapists, coaches, and family are protective factors for mental health. Ask for help.
Relationships are vital to our well-being. Making time for them will help you get through it. We all need a pit crew and cheerleaders to spur us on.
5. Look at the big picture.
Your mental health is more important than your grades. It's important to know the difference between healthy achievement or unhealthy overachievement. You are not your grades. What you do doesn't define you.
Take pride in your accomplishments and seize the opportunities of today, but remember to invest in self-care to protect yourself from stress overload. No one sprints through marathons without taking any breaks. Take pit stops to nourish your mind, body, and soul. Keep a sustainable pace. There's no success without mental health
6. Remember that learning is everything, and everything is learning.
Education is a privilege. When finals stress is high, it's hard to remember how lucky we are to have access to it. Even mistakes are lessons and teachers.
Grades are not the end-all-be-all. Shift away from that pervasive mindset of attaching your self-worth to your scores and grades. Strive to do well and be well. Work towards solid outcomes, but remember to enjoy the process.

(Kristen Lee, Ed.D., LICSW, is a behavioral science professor, clinician, and the author of Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking and Reset: Make the Most of Your Stress).

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