Grace's Guide to Finals Stress and Anxiety

I never considered myself a good writer, mostly because my writing had previously been about pointless topics in high school that I didn’t actually care about. I think a lot, I feel a lot, but this isn’t about me; this is about my experience and putting it in writing to connect with others. I am going to open up to an experience I had recently which is less than glamorous to talk about.

I found myself at my lowest after taking another exam which I felt like I failed. I skipped my class after it, I found no point in forcing myself in a situation where I had to fake and space out just to get through the class. All I wanted to do was feel numb. One of the things people don’t mention about having anxiety is the downward spiraling feeling when it’s left untreated. I felt worthless. I felt dumb. I felt judged. I felt less than everyone around me and in my program. I felt like a burden. I had thoughts about dropping out of school today.

I walked into my counselor’s office whispering “I’m about to blow up and I’m sorry.” At that point I started to cry much like the night before, my entire body started shaking, and I used the rest of her tissue box over the course of an hour. It’s amazing what the human mind could take before it snaps. I was overwhelmed and stuck in a cycle of overthinking, it caught up to me all at once. It helps to talk about it out loud with someone willing to listen and having the tools and advice to help piece you back together. The further into the session, the better I felt. I realized I was psyching myself out and doubting myself because of the stress and pressure I put on myself. It’s not that I couldn’t handle the material, I just couldn’t handle all the red flags around me in all aspects of my life. It felt like nothing was going right.

It’s important to take a step back and acknowledge all the things you have done so far. I don’t think college students understand how resilient they are. They’re in class approximately 18 hours every week, double that, and that’s the projected amount of time students spend studying outside the classroom. It’s like having a full-time job. Education is a gift, it’s a privilege, but it requires constant hustle to be successful. It’s a lot of late nights, early mornings, studying on the weekends, and saying no to plans with friends. You’re in a constant battle of getting bombarded with new information you need to memorize as soon as possible, maintaining a social life, and constantly bettering your health. It’s ok to feel unbalanced and unhappy, but it’s not okay to stay there.

I used to swim, I was quite good too. In a world, I miss the sport itself and the community, but not competing. I realized that’s where my performance anxiety came from. After high school, I put so much pressure on myself to compete well which led to bad races and disappointment. I put fear and paranoia in my head about what I didn’t want instead of focusing on what I could control and what I hoped to achieve. Once I stopped swim, anxiety manifested in how I took exams. I had this irrational fear that my exam scores define me, that they define my worth, which is completely wrong. Your scores are simply results on how well you could remember and apply what you’ve been taught; they’re not an accurate representation of who you are as a person or your potential. Once you take a step back and see the big picture and what you can control, you’ll feel much more at peace.

 

With exam season coming up, I want to remind everyone who feels like they’re up to your eyeballs in stress, everything will be ok. Find more ways to relax and de stress, find safe spaces with people you’re comfortable with. There is no shame in needing to talk and vent to those who can help clear your mind and see things rationally. Self-care and knowing when to take a break is critical when putting yourself through mental strain. Going into finals week, keep reminding yourself how resilient you are and how hard you’ve worked up to this point. Positive self-talk is important, and it can help manifest the outcomes you’re working to achieve. I figured out that’s how I did so well in high school swimming. My coach would remind me, every race, do your best, give it your best effort, and trust your training. Don’t fear what could happen but rather see the good and potential. I prepped well, went with my instincts, trusted my preparation, and raced with no regrets. Over the next few weeks, try to take a step back and see the big picture. Remember that life is so much bigger than school. Your grades don’t define your worth or potential. Where you’re at right now, is a stepping stone. In this present moment, all you can do is give it your best effort and maintain a positive outlook.

 

Best of luck with finals. You can do this, I believe in you.