With looming finals, big papers, and the holidays right around the corner, the end of the semester can be one of the most stressful times of the school year. But don’t start the nail-biting just yet! We talked to collegiettes around the country and Dr. Patrick McGrath, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety and stress management, to give you tips on how to stay calm, confront your anxieties and have a successful year-end. So, take a deep breath, put down your study materials (just for a little bit!) and read on.
1. Repeat this to yourself: It WILL pass
Sure, you could take a long bubble bath. But according to Dr. McGrath, long-term solutions to stress management involve accepting and dealing with your anxieties. “The best thing to do is to stay in a stressful situation until the stress passes. It will pass – you just have to allow yourself enough time to learn and believe that,” he says. So when you’re in panic mode about the organic chemistry final, remind yourself that this situation will absolutely end and then it will be over and done with. Fighting the stress could actually increase it, exacerbating your panic. Accepting the situation and working through it calmly is the best thing you can do, says Dr. McGrath. So don’t procrastinate. Pick up the textbook, do the work and it’ll be over before you know it.
2. Get in the zone
Just ask professional athletes and performers: some stress is good! Stress can up your game, keep you focused and propel you to work efficiently and smartly. “People fear anxiety and it can actually be a very helpful emotion, if it is experienced in such a way as to not interfere with your life but to enhance it. In sports they call this ‘in the zone,’” says Dr. McGrath. “Performers on stage are not without anxiety – they just have just enough to motivate them or to put an edge on their performance and to drive them to be better.” So what’s a collegiette to do? Use stress to your advantage, like Kate, a collegiette at Wellesley College, does. “Stress motivates me to study. If there isn’t pressure, it’s sometimes hard to give attention to things you would like to learn about. I may want to become better at art history, but I might not have the personal drive to learn it. It’s good to have something chasing at your heels because then you’re actually going somewhere,” she says. Get excited about your projects, and channel your stress into focus and drive—you might forget it’s actually work anyway. Need to memorize some tricky Spanish vocab words? Make up funny sentences with them. Have an essay due about ancient Greece? Talk to your friends about it. Give them trivia. By applying the information to your own life, you’ll not only know it better, it’ll also become (dare we say it) fun.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare
“If you know that you have a stressful situation coming up, prepare for it, role play it with friends, practice what you are going to say, but also accept the fact that no matter how much you prepare there will probably be something that will happen that you will just have to react to and go with it,” says Dr. McGrath. Don’t let stress creep up on you. Have a scary paper coming up? Make a list of exactly what you need to do (go to library to get sources, meet up with prof at office hours, etc.) and go through the motions. Nervous about your financial situation this holiday season? Make a budget and be realistic about what you can and can’t afford. Worried about that French oral presentation? Run through it with a roommate. Read your essays out loud before handing them in—it’ll help the editing process. When you’re stressed, it’s tempting to just freak out and avoid thinking about our anxieties (hello, procrastination!). But by confronting the situation, you’re teaching yourself that you CAN work your way through it. Stressful situations are always going to happen, but being prepared is something you can absolutely control.