Managing Stress During Finals

by Kyle Kick
BStrong Together Executive Director

In a study by the American Psychological Association, American teens reported only sleeping 7.4 hours on a school night and 8.1 hours on a non-school night, much less than the recommended 8.5-9.25 hours.  More than a third of respondents said that they lie awake at night and can't sleep due to stress.  The Partnership for a Drug Free America survey found that 73% of respondents said that school stress was the primary reason for their drug and alcohol use.  Our children and teens are more stressed than ever and it's effecting both their mental and physical health.

For many students, that stress increases - sometimes dramatically - during finals.  But, learning how to manage stress and practice stress-relief strategies are skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Tips for managing stress during finals ~

  • Make a plan - identify your finals schedule and create an effective study strategy (learn more about how to create a study plan).
  • Make a checklist of everything that you will need for each test so that you don't leave anything at home.
  • Set small goals that can be accomplished.
  • Create a study space free of clutter and distraction.
  • Organize your study materials so that they are easily accessible and ready to go.
  • Put your phone away or at least silence your social media platforms - they are a distraction which will cause more stress in the long run.
  • Sleep - be sure you are getting enough!
  • Eat regularly - check out this list of 17 power snacks for studying.
  • Stay hydrated. 
  • When studying for finals, it's important to take a study break for 5 minutes every hour - have a healthy snack to fuel your brain and stretch to release tension.  These study breaks have been proved to increase concentration and sustain energy.
  • Take a walk - research shows that even a short walk outside reduces stress.
  • Practice relaxation exercises including muscle relaxation techniques, abdominal breathing, or meditation.  Try these techniques to learn how to relax in 10 minutes or less. 
  • Exercise - it helps to wake up the brain and reduce stress.
  • Take a longer break every once and a while - read a book, listen to music, draw a picture, play catch, dance, do something you love and makes you happy.
  • Focus on what you can control.
  • If you are getting overwhelmed, talk with someone about your thoughts and feelings.
  • Enjoy some quiet time with a pet - did you know that petting an animal reduces stress?
  • Turn off screens 1-2 hours before bed (computer, phone, tv) if you can.  They make sleeping harder and you need your sleep!

On test day ~

  • Be sure to eat a breakfast high in protein and have a healthy snack or lunch before your test if it is later in the morning or in the afternoon - nuts, yogurt, bananas, protein bars will increase brain power.
  • Stay away from caffeine and energy drinks - you don't want to have shaky hands or a caffeine crash during the test.
  • Check your list to be sure that you have everything you need for the test. Pencils - check!  Calculator - check!  Snack - check!
  • When you take your seat in the classroom, RELAX - take 5 deep breaths and remind yourself that you are ready.

Most importantly ~

  • BE KIND TO YOURSELF - realize that you don't have to be perfect; that while academics are important, remind yourself that your worth is not based on your grades, how you do on a test, or how well you perform in other areas of your life; you are wonderful and valuable and important because you are YOU!

For more information about teen stress and how to manage it, visit the BStrong Together webpage Stress for Students.


~ How parents can help ~

  • LISTEN carefully and CONNECT with your kids.
  • MONITOR for unhealthy levels of stress - lack of sleep, loss of appetite, moodiness, unusual behavior.
  • WATCH for signs of overload.
  • Encourage DOWNTIME.
  • LEARN techniques for reducing stress (above) and PRACTICE them TOGETHER.
  • MODEL healthy stress management techniques.

For more information about teen stress and suggestions for how parents can help, visit the BStrong Together webpage Stress for Parents or the American Psychological Association webpage Talking to Teens About Stress.

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